Australia Dismisses 'Offensive' Sinking Survivor Claims
By Agence France-Presse on 5:47 pm September 30, 2013
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L) reviews Indonesian honour guards during a visit to the presidential palace in Jakarta on September 30, 2013. Abbott began a visit to Indonesia on September 30 for talks on his tough refugee policies that have sparked anger in Jakarta, as his government faced criticism over a boat sinking that left dozens dead or missing. (AFP Photo/Adek Berry)
Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L) reviews Indonesian honour guards during a visit to the presidential palace in Jakarta on September 30, 2013. Abbott began a visit to Indonesia on September 30 for talks on his tough refugee policies that have sparked anger in Jakarta, as his government faced criticism over a boat sinking that left dozens dead or missing. (AFP Photo/Adek Berry)
Sydney. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on Monday dismissed as “offensive” questions over Australia’s response to a refugee boat tragedy off Indonesia as he declared the country “shut” to asylum-seekers arriving by sea.
Morrison said a sinking on Friday in rough seas off Java, which claimed at least 36 lives, was a “chilling reminder of what can occur when you put your life in the hands of criminals” as he defended the new government’s response to the disaster.
Some 28 people escaped alive but between 80 and 120 Middle Eastern asylum-seekers were estimated to have been on board, meaning dozens remain unaccounted for.
Fronting the media for the first time since the incident, Morrison said it had “occurred in Indonesia’s search-and-rescue region, close — very close — to the Indonesian coast.”
He emphatically rejected suggestions from survivors that repeated calls had been made to Australian authorities and that help was promised but never materialized.
“Australians working in our border protection and maritime agencies routinely put themselves at risk in responding to search and rescue incidents,” Morrison told reporters.
“They respond with a professionalism, a selflessness and a sense of urgency that all Australians should be proud of and of which I am proud. Any suggestion otherwise is as offensive as it is wrong.”
Air Marshal Mark Binskin, part of the government’s military-led Operation Sovereign Borders aimed at halting asylum-seeker boats, said police were first contacted by Melbourne-based friends awaiting the vessel’s arrival shortly before 8am on Friday.
“[They] reported that they had friends on a vessel that had departed Jakarta four days ago with 80 people on board,” he told reporters. ”The caller reported the vessel had broken down, had no food or water, was sinking and that there were a number of unconscious people on board.”
Within an hour a passenger on the boat had been reached by telephone and Indonesia’s Basarnas rescue agency was called in at 9.44am, though Binskin said they refused to take on coordination of the search.
An emergency broadcast was made to merchant ships in the area and an aircraft was sent to look for the boat without success, he added, describing Australia’s response as “professional and timely.”
Binskin said there had been a “large level of confusion [and] disorientation” from those on board.
Morrison remained tight-lipped on whether Australia had turned back any vessels to Indonesia as promised during the recent election campaign, citing “operational” security.
But he revealed three boats had reached Australia in the past week with a fourth arriving at the remote Christmas Island on Monday morning.
During a visit to Australia’s remote detention camps in the Pacific last week Morrison said he had told asylum-seekers to “warn others not to follow them.”
“We are shut when it comes to people seeking to come that way [by sea],” he said.
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