Deepening mystery of the SIEV-X
Sydney Morning Herald
12 April 2003
Amid the clamour surrounding the war in Iraq, it's not surprising that a significant award to an Australian from an obscure but important British magazine went almost unnoticed. The Index on Censorship, an outlet for many noted writers and commentators, seeks to protect freedom of expression by reporting on censorship around the globe. It made its Whistleblower of the Year award to former Australian diplomat Tony Kevin for his "dogged investigation" of the sinking of the SIEV-X. That's the acronym (Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel-Unknown) for the boat crammed with asylum seekers which sank off Indonesia while heading to Australia in October, 2001, with the loss of 353 lives. In its enthusiasm, the Index's citation claimed that Mr Kevin had "uncovered the truth about the sinking". He, presumably, would be the first to demur; he is still working to discover the truth. Indeed, 18 months on, the sinking of the SIEV-X is a deepening mystery.
Tony Kevin's concern is that Australia may have contributed to the sinking through its "semi-clandestine" attempts to stop people smugglers. Australian Federal Police were working actively with the Indonesians to disrupt the smugglers. The AFP paid teams of local agents for this work but, significantly, did not control their activities. Mr Kevin has lately speculated in the Herald that the SIEV-X was sabotaged by being deliberately overloaded - 421 people herded aboard a 19.5-metre boat. It was intended to sink as a warning to other would-be smugglers.
Mr Kevin thinks it probable that Australian agencies knew something about the operation - or were even complicit in it. He finds it strange that Australia has been so "half-hearted" in seeking to extradite Abu Quassey, the people smuggler who organised the SIEV-X's final journey. Mr Kevin believes that Australian authorities fear what Abu Quassey might tell an Australian court. Meantime, Abu Quassey has not been charged by the Indonesians, nor have Indonesian police who helped corral his doomed passengers.
The Senate, last December, sought a judicial inquiry into the sinking of the SIEV-X. The Government has ignored that request, loudly denying it has anything to hide. Meanwhile, the questions - and answers - mount, not just from Tony Kevin but from other dogged investigators such as the Labor senator John Faulkner. The case for an inquiry becomes only more compelling. As Mr Kevin says, "The real SIEV-X story remains to be told."