Australian rescue agency ignored calls for help in boat tragedy where 100 drowned

July 24, 2013 - 5:11PM
Natalie O'Brien

Australia's search and rescue agency has been criticised in a classified government report as not being proactive enough in helping an asylum seeker boat which had made more than 16 calls for help over two days before eventually capsizing, killing more than 100 men.

The report into the incident, which has been kept under wraps since the tragedy unfolded in June last year, also revealed there was criticism of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) for handing over responsibility for the stricken boat to its Indonesian counterpart BASARNAS because of its limited ability to conduct long range search and rescue operations.

The report by Customs and Border and Protection was tendered in the West Australian Coroners Court on Wednesday during the resumption of an inquest into the sinking of that boat which became known as the Kaniva or the SIEV 358 on June 21 last year.

It is believed there were 214 men on the boat- 210 were from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran and four were Indonesian crew members.

Seventeen drowned and more than 80 are still missing believed to have died.

The inquest is inquiring into the identities of the men who died, the cause of death, the circumstances in which the boat sank, the rescue efforts and communications between BASARNAS and AMSA.

The details in the classified report emerged while AMSA manager Alan Lloyd was giving evidence about Australia's response to the boat's calls for help.

Under questioning from the counsel assisting the inquest, Marco Tedeschi, and the WA Coroner, Alastair Hope, Mr Lloyd admitted that AMSA and its Indonesian counterpart BASARNAS had never got down to discussing the "nitty gritty" of who had what boats and planes that could assist in such a situation.

Mr Lloyd said the incident had been transferred to the Indonesians under the correct protocols because it was in Indonesia's search and rescue zone and it was up to Indonesia to determine its response.

But it has also been revealed in the report - much of which has been redacted - that AMSA was warned at the height of the incident that Indonesia did not have the capability to take over the search and rescue for the boat and that it was not sending any boats to the rescue and despite that AMSA still transferred responsibility for the situation to the Indonesians.

Mr Lloyd said it was quite clear that Indonesia had accepted coordination for the incident and it was not up to AMSA to determine what action BASARNAS would take.

Mr Lloyd has also told the inquest that despite all the phone calls and reports that the boat was travelling at just one knot and at times drifting, AMSA did not consider the boat was in a distress situation and therefore did not issue an emergency broadcast to other ships in the area until days later when the boat was spotted capsized.

The inquest is continuing.


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