Survivor says ships just sailed by

July 16 2002
The Age
By Steve Dow

photo caption: Amal Hassan

An Iraqi woman who survived the sinking of the SIEV-X that killed 353 asylum seekers off the Java Coast says that three large ships drew close to the scene but failed to mount a rescue.

Amal Hassan, 48, who with her son Rami, 18, was among 44 survivors of the tragedy last October, claims some of the drownings could have been averted had the ships stayed. She survived 20 hours in the water clinging to a dead body. She now lives in Melbourne on a temporary protection visa.

Mrs Hassan said she and others were told after being rescued by an Indonesian fishing vessel that the ships they saw were Australian naval vessels.

The claim was denied yesterday by a spokesman for Defence Minister Robert Hill, who said the ships could have been Indonesian. "Even if you accept that the boat (SIEV-X) could have miraculously gotten into our surveillance zone 80 nautical miles off the coast of Indonesia, our ships were actually down at Christmas Island, 150 nautical miles away," he said.

Mrs Hassan's family were part of a Shiite uprising against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and feared for their lives. Her husband, Abbas, 52, had fled to Melbourne two years ago. Mrs Hassan and her youngest son left south Sumatra on October 18, but could not afford to bring their eldest son Raed, 19, who is living alone in Iran.

She said they left in the middle of the night after paying the people smuggler, who claimed to be Egyptian but whose accent sounded Jordanian. On board the boat she realised how crowded it was, with children and luggage on top of her.

She said she could not swim and couldn't find any wood to hold on to when the boat sank, so instead clung to a dead man. Her son swam to her and kissed her goodbye because he thought they were going to die.

She said she saw ahead the lights of three ships. Several survivors swam towards the lights, but the water pushed them back.

Another Iraqi woman, Najah Zubaydi, who lost a sister, brother and baby son in the sinking, also said she saw the ships.

Mrs Hassan was mystified as to why her family have not been granted permanency. "The Australian Government, they don't punish the smuggler, they punish us."


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