Siev-X accomplice faces 20 years after guilty verdictThe Australian
09 JUN 2005
By Kevin Meade
AN Iraqi man faces a maximum 20 years in jail after being found guilty yesterday of helping to organise the voyage of the Siev-X in which 353 asylum-seekers drowned in their attempt to reach Australia.
But anyone who hoped the trial of Khaleed Shnayf Daoed, a former Baghdad goldsmith, would answer some of the more enduring questions surrounding the tragedy would have been sadly disappointed.
A Brisbane Supreme Court jury convicted Daoed, 37, on a charge of assisting principal people smuggler Abu Quassey in an attempt to bring illegal immigrants to Australia on the Siev-X in October 2001.
But the jury acquitted Daoed on a separate charge of helping Quassey organise the voyage of another vessel, the Yambuck, which carried 147 asylum-seekers safely from Indonesia to Christmas Island in August 2001.
Quassey, an Egyptian, was sentenced by a court in Cairo in December 2003 to seven years' jail for people smuggling and accidental manslaughter.
Daoed, an Iraqi refugee who was resettled in Sweden after the Siev-X sank but extradited to Australia in November 2003, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Judge Phil McMurdo adjourned the sentencing to a date to be fixed. The Siev-X sank in international waters south of Indonesia on October 19, 2001, about 33 hours after it left the southern coast of Sumatra. The 19m wooden boat was shockingly overcrowded with more than 400 asylum-seekers, most of them Iraqis.
One survivor, Sadeq Al Abodie, told the trial the vessel was so thickly crammed with passengers that when he got on board it took him more than an hour to find his wife and two-year-old daughter. Mr Al Abodie was one of only 44 passengers who survived.
During Daoed's committal hearing last year, Mr Al Abodie said he thought his daughter was dead as she clung to his shoulders in rough seas after the Siev-X sank. His child survived, but his wife drowned. Other witnesses told similar horror stories.
But commonwealth prosecutor Glen Rice, mindful that Daoed had not been charged with manslaughter but simply with helping organise the illegal voyage, was careful to keep such tragic details out of the evidence during the trial.
One survivor who did not testify at the trial was Faris Kadhem, who told the committal hearing that three ``metal boats'' came near about 200 passengers struggling to stay alive in the ocean after the Siev-X sank, but did nothing to save them and sailed away.
He said the vessels came within 500m of the stricken asylum-seekers and shone lights on them.
Mr Khadem's evidence reignited persistent rumours that the stricken passengers might have been seen by Australian or Indonesian naval vessels.
West Australian Refugee Alliance co-ordinator Sue Hoffman, who watched the trial with relatives of victims of the disaster, said yesterday that many other survivors had given similar accounts of seeing ships and shining lights.
The Senate's Children Overboard inquiry in 2002 examined the failure of the Australian Defence Force to rescue the Siev-X survivors despite the presence of many of its vessels in the area.
The ships were there as part of Operation Relex, the federal Government's frontline campaign against illegal immigration.
The inquiry's final report cleared the ADF of any blame for the Siev-X tragedy but questioned how such a disaster could happen near such intensive Australian operations and not be detected.
Ms Hoffman read a statement from one of the trial's observers, Perth-based asylum-seeker Mohammad Hashim Al Ghazzi, who was not on the Siev-X but lost his wife and three children in the disaster: ``Trial very sad, hurt us deeply, bring back our story again. We lost life, future, truth, dignity -- everything gone. Nothing will bring back our family.''
Also investigated by the Senate inquiry was the possibility -- raised by then Labor Senate leader John Faulkner -- that the Siev-X was sabotaged as part of a joint disruption program against illegal vessels by the Australian Federal Police and Indonesian authorities. AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty, while refusing to give evidence to the inquiry on the Siev-X incident, on the grounds that it might prejudice pending investigations, conceded that the Australian Government had no control over Indonesia's activities in the disruption program. The Children Overboard report called for a full independent inquiry into Australia's role in disrupting asylum-seeker vessels.
The federal Government has refused to implement the recommendation.
ROAD TO JUSTICE