Survivor tells court of crowded boat that took 353 to their deaths

Marian Wilkinson
May 18, 2005

One charge against an accused people smuggler relates to the SIEV X, writes Marian Wilkinson.

When the crude drawing of the SIEV X flashed up on the screen above the witness box it looked at first like the work of a child, simple lines sketched on a white sheet of paper.

But as the neatly dressed Iraqi stood up and began describing his picture, his countrymen in the back of the court who had lost 23 of their loved ones because of that boat strained to listen to the witness's every word as he told of the night he set foot on the SIEV X.

Sadeq Razaq Al-Abodie had come from Finland to the Supreme Court in Brisbane to give his account of dealing with the accused people smuggler in front of him who promised Mr Al-Abodie, his wife and two-year-old child a voyage to Australia. But, he told the court, when the SIEV X loomed into view on the night of October 18, 2001, he saw a vessel so crowded with passengers it sat low in the water.

"Inside the boat it was hard for people to breathe," he said.

The case before the Brisbane court, as Judge Philip McMurdo said on several occasions yesterday, is not about the deaths of the 353 men, women and children who perished when the SIEV X capsized on its way to Christmas Island.

The defendant, Khaleed Shanayf Daoed, is charged with two counts of aiding a people-smuggling operation in violation of the Migration Act.

One of those counts relates to the voyage of the SIEV X, but those in the courtroom who hope to learn more about the disaster were repeatedly reminded the court would only hear evidence relevant to the charges against Daoed.

The accused, himself a Iraqi refugee who has been extradited from Sweden, was dressed in a black shirt and looked sombre as he pleaded not guilty to the charges. But much of the prosecution case focused on the role Daoed played as one of two "trusted assistants" helping a well-known people smuggler, Abu Quassey, who planned the voyage of the SIEV X.

Mr Al-Abodie, the first of 20 prosecution witnesses, said he was approached at a hotel near Jakarta by Daoed and another Iraqi who told him about a boat being organised by Quassey that would go to Australia.

Mr Al-Abodie described how Daoed had told him and other Iraqis the price would be between $US800 and $US1000. He said he handed over a deposit while Daoed and his friend ticked off names, organised transport and met the passengers at cheap hotels.

"I paid him $400 for myself and my wife, $200 for each person," Mr Al-Abodie told the court. Asked by the prosecution barrister Glen Rice what he paid for his two-year-old child, he replied: "They don't charge for children."

On the night the Iraqis arrived at the beach for the voyage to Christmas Island, Daoed and Quassey were there. The women and children were separated from the men, taken out by motor boat and loaded on board, below deck.

When Mr Abodie got on board the SIEV X it was so crowded it took him an hour to find his wife. He told the court he remembered seeing Daoed and Quassey in the motor boat nearby.

"They were calling people to pull out the anchor so the boat would move," he said. Already, he said, the waves were spilling into the lower deck.

The case is expected to last three weeks.


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