Siev X smuggler `could be an agent'

By Cameron Stewart
Weekend Australian
31 July 2004

THE people-smuggler who organised the voyage of the ill-fated Siev X, which sank with the loss of 353 passengers, may have been working as a sting agent of the Indonesian police, according to former Australian diplomat and author Tony Kevin.

Mr Kevin implies that Egyptian-born Abu Quassey, now serving seven years' jail in Egypt for people-smuggling and the accidental manslaughter of the 353 people on the vessel, may have engineered the sinking of Siev X (Suspected illegal entry vessel X).

'It is likely that alleged people-smuggler Abu Quassey was a police disruption or `sting' agent,' writes Mr Kevin.

'This is suggested by the sustained high level of Indonesian and Australian protection before, during and after the sinking of Siev X, as well as by subsequent Australian Federal Police attempts to help minimise his sentence in his 2003 trial in Egypt and render him immune from further prosecution.'

In his new book, A Certain Maritime Incident, Mr Kevin writes that AFP agents in Indonesia worked closely with the Indonesian police to disrupt people-smugglers, but that the details of the disruption operations have remained shrouded in mystery. He suggests that Australia bears some responsibility for the tragedy because of lingering questions about whether Siev X was sabotaged by Indonesian authorities in order to deter future boats.

'The conduct of Indonesian police people-smuggling disruption teams -- initially set up, trained, equipped and funded by the AFP -- was out of AFP control and criminality in Indonesian disruption operations, for example the deliberate sinking of boats, could not be ruled out,' Mr Kevin writes.

The AFP has strongly denied any wrongdoing in relation to Siev X and says it never asked the Indonesian police authorities to sabotage boats or do anything illegal in deterring people-smugglers. It is one of a series of explosive allegations made by Mr Kevin in the book, to be published on Monday.

It is the first book written about the tragedy of Siev X, which sank en route from Indonesia to Australia in October 2001. The sinking of Siev X during the 2001 election campaign came at the height of the Government's war on people-smugglers.

Mr Kevin accuses the Government of exploiting the tragedy for political purposes and using national security as an excuse to cover up much of what it knew about the Siev X.

He claims the Government may have lied, or covered up, key aspects of the Siev X story, including the location of where the boat sank. Prime Minister John Howard initially said that Siev X sank in Indonesian waters and was therefore not Australia's responsibility. It was later revealed that the boat sank in the zone patrolled daily by Australia's P3 Orion spy planes and that one had flown over that area shortly after the vessel sank, but that the crew was unaware of the tragedy and did not spot survivors. Only 45 people survived the sinking.

'Most people at the time thought it was just a dreadful accident and accepted it as further proof of the dangers of the people-smuggling trade,' Mr Kevin writes.

He hopes the book will force people to confront what he says are unresolved mysteries surrounding the rickety 19.5m vessel that took 353 men, women and children to their deaths.

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