SIEV-X families seeks answers from trialAM - Tuesday, 17 May , 2005 08:12:00
Reporter: Nick Grimm
(audio coverage here)
TONY EASTLEY: The old wooden boat was supposed to deliver a new life to the people onboard, but instead it delivered death and heartache to hundreds. Only 45 asylum seekers survived the sinking of SIEV-X - as it became known - after enduring a 22-hour ordeal in seas near Christmas Island.
Today in Brisbane the trial is expected to begin of an alleged people smuggler who's charged with helping organise the ill-fated voyage that resulted in the drowning deaths of 353 asylum seekers in 2001.
Those who lost family members in the tragedy are hoping that today's trial may help provide them with some answers to what happened.
Nick Grimm reports.
NICK GRIMM: When an accused people smuggler goes on trial in Brisbane's Supreme Court today, there will be three men watching on from the public gallery, hoping the proceedings might help them to understand why it was that their loved ones died.
SUE HOFFMAN: Around this particular tragedy, there's so many unanswered questions.
NICK GRIMM: Also there will be the convenor of the West Australian Refugee Alliance, Sue Hoffman, who helped raise the money to fly the three Iraqis across the country from Perth so they could watch the trial.
SUE HOFFMAN: And the men I've come over with, two of them who are brothers in law, married two sisters, and they each have lost 14 members out of their family group. The third man has lost eight members of his extended family.
So it's a very, very sad situation, and for them they haven't seen that any justice has been done, and this might help them in their recovery process to see that someone is being brought to account for it, if that's what actually happened.
NICK GRIMM: At the time of the tragedy Australian authorities had dubbed it SIEV-X, short for "suspected illegal entry vehicle, name unknown". Yet SIEV-X never made it to Australia.
In fact, the Australian Government has denied suggestions that SIEV-X was in Australian waters when it sank in October 2001. If it had been it would rank as one of Australia's worst maritime disasters.
Three hundred and fifty three asylum seekers drowned when the overloaded boat's pumps finally gave out and it could no longer remain afloat. Only 45 of those on board the wooden fishing boat survived.
Already, the so-called ringleader of the people-smuggling operation, Egyptian Abu Qassey, has been sentenced to seven years jail by an Egyptian court, which found him guilty of homicide through negligence and aiding illegal immigration.
The only person charged here in Australia, 37-year-old Khaleed Shanayf Daoed, who was extradited from Sweden in 2003, will today face two charges of helping to organise the illegal entry of people from Indonesia, to Australia.
One charge relates to SIEV-X, the other, to a boatload of 147 asylum seekers that landed on Christmas Island in 2001.
Refugee advocates have campaigned for a full inquiry into the circumstances of the SIEV-X sinking amid claims, strenuously denied by the Howard Government, that authorities knew of the SIEV-X's fate, but did nothing to assist those on board.
Sue Hoffman hopes today's trial may do something to assist those who lost all that they held dear when SIEV-X sank.
SUE HOFFMAN: With one of the men, his wife and kids died. His wife's sister and her family died in SIEV-X and his wife's brother, wife and their children died in SIEV-X. He lost 14 members of his family.
His mother in law, because so much of her family was decimated, lost her mind completely, and his wife's family have said if he returns to Iraq they will kill him. I mean this is one of the other unfortunate aftermaths of this tragedy, is that he's actually being blamed by his wife's family for the deaths of so many members of that particular family group.
NICK GRIMM: How difficult will it be for them to attend the court today?
SUE HOFFMAN: That's completely unknown. None of us are really sure how upsetting it will be to attend the trial. We really don't know, and they don't know. But they know each other very well, and they will be able to support each other.
TONY EASTLEY: Sue Hoffman is the Convenor of the West Australian Refugee Alliance, and that report was from Nick Grimm.