The Australian
25 September 2002
Spies picked up reports on doomed asylum boat
Cameron Stewart

THE country's most secret intelligence agency, the Defence Signals Directorate, intercepted information on the doomed boat Siev X before it sailed and after it sank with the loss of 353 asylum-seekers.

But the Government's intelligence watchdog says the secret DSD intercepts could not have helped the Australian navy to prevent the sinking or save survivors.

New evidence presented to the children overboard inquiry also reveals that Coastwatch failed to tell defence chiefs about a warning it had received regarding Siev X's safety.

The inquiry heard previously that on the morning of October 20 -- as survivors were still clinging to wreckage -- Australian Federal Police agent Kylie Pratt told Coastwatch that she personally feared for the boat's safety.

Ms Pratt's comments were based on an AFP intelligence report from that morning that Siev X was small, badly overcrowded and had already set sail for Christmas Island.

But in answers to questions on notice this week, the Australian Defence Force said Coastwatch failed to pass on Ms Pratt's warnings.

'The advice (from Coastwatch) did not include a report of concern for increased risk to the vessel's safety,' the ADF said in its written response.

The failure of various government agencies to fully share their intelligence on Siev X contributed to the conclusions of military chiefs that the boat was not in danger.

These communication failures are expected to be highlighted and criticised in the committee's report to be released next month.

In written answers to the committee, the ADF admitted for the first time that the DSD intercepted communications relating to Siev X.

It said DSD issued 'a number' of reports on Siev X after it sank and 'several reports' relating to the preparations for the departure of a vessel 'which may or may not have been Siev X'.

The Government will not release the content of the DSD transcripts.

However, the intelligence watchdog, the Inspector-General for Intelligence and Security, Bill Blick, told the committee he had reviewed the DSD intelligence and did not believe 'it could have materially assisted the navy or Coastwatch to identify the whereabouts of the Siev X, prevent its sinking or assist in the recovery effort after it sank.'

Siev X is believed to have sunk some 60 nautical miles south of Java on October 19 after its engine stalled and it capsized.

If so, this would have been within the patrol zone of Australia's navy and air force which were combing the area as part of Operation Relex aimed at locating and deterring asylum-seeker vessels.

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