Smugglers paid coast guard, capsize survivor says

By Marian Wilkinson
21 May 2005

A second witness in a people-smuggling trial in Brisbane has implicated the Indonesian coast guard in the SIEV X tragedy, saying he was told money from the passengers had to go to members of the coast guard before the boat could sail.

Ali Kahrachman, a survivor of the SIEV X voyage, on which 353 people died in 2001, was giving evidence in the trial of Khaleed Shanayf Daoed, who has pleaded not guilty to two counts of aiding people smuggling operations. One of the operations related to the SIEV X, which capsized on its way to Christmas Island.

Yesterday Mr Kahrachman told the Brisbane Supreme Court that Daoed had asked him and other Iraqi refugees to settle their accounts for the voyage days before the SIEV X left because the smugglers needed to pay for food and because "we need to collect money to give to the coast guard".

Like other witnesses, Mr Kahrachman said he saw armed Indonesian men dressed in uniform when he and more than 400 refugees arrived at the beach where they were to board the SIEV X.

Defence counsel for Daoed, Gary Long, challenged Mr Kahrachman's evidence that he had given money directly to Daoed, saying that in earlier statements the witness had claimed he handed his money to other Iraqis.

Mr Kahrachman repeated that he had seen his Iraqi friends give the money to Daoed but agreed that he did not remember the incident well.

He recalled that an initial fee was given to Daoed and said the balance was given to "a trusted person" who was supposed to hand it over to the people smugglers when the ship sailed.

But, he said, before the SIEV X departed Daoed said they needed the rest of the money or the boat would not sail.

On Wednesday another SIEV X survivor, Karim Al-Saaedy, gave evidence that the leader of the people-smuggling ring, Abu Quassey, had arranged a breakfast with four of the Iraqi refugees at an elite Jakarta hotel. There he introduced them to a man he described as the head of the Indonesian coast guard for all of Sumatra, the island where the voyage would begin.

"This officer is in charge of the coast, and the Indonesian police are with us," Abu Quassey is said to have told Mr Al-Saaedy and his companions. The prosecution says Daoed was one of two "trusted assistants" for Abu Quassey, who was convicted in Egypt over the SIEV X sinking in 2003.

The court has not heard evidence about the capsizing of the SIEV X as Daoed is not charged with any offence over the deaths of the 353 people who drowned. But the opening week of the Brisbane trial proved an overwhelming emotional experience for several of the survivors who lost members of their family.

On Thursday one survivor was led from the witness box after breaking down in tears. He collapsed in the foyer of the court and was taken to a Brisbane hospital. The previous day Mr Al-Saaedy broke down and wept on the witness stand and was later taken to hospital.

These witnesses, like Mr Kahrachman, live in Finland, where they were given refuge after the SIEV X sinking.

Mr Kahrachman said he had travelled from Iran to Indonesia in 2001 with 18 other men, women and children attempting to come to Australia. All of this group who boarded the SIEV X, except for him, had drowned.

The case continues next week.


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