ROYAL AUSTRALIAN NAVY
14-16 Wylde Street, POTTS POINT NSW 2011
[date stamped: Received 21 May 2002]
Senate Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident
CANBERRA, ACT, 2600
Dear Mr Chairman
CLARIFICATION OF EVIDENCE
- During my attendance at the Committee on the 4 and 5 April I provided testimony on the vessel, now known as the Abu Qussey vessel, that foundered in the Sunda Strait on the 19 October 2001. Having reviewed my testimony I wish to provide further clarification of my comments to ensure the Committee are clear on the facts of the Navy's role with respect to:
- the nature of operations in response to intelligence information,
- whether or not Navy and other agencies knew this vessel had definitely sailed from Indonesia,
- when Navy and other agencies reported this vessel overdue, and
- the level of operational activity at the time the vessel sank in the Sunda Strait.
Nature of Navy Operations in response to Intelligence
- The Navy's approach to directing and intercepting the Suspected Illegal Entry Vessels (SIEVs) was to conduct a layered surveillance operation using intelligence, air surveillance, surface surveillance and response.
- The intelligence reporting from Coastwatch was used as indicators of possible SIEV arrival in an area with a probable time window. The intelligence reports often appeared to be duplicative, with the associated difficulty of determining whether the numerous reports referred to a single vessel or multiple vessels. Thus on occasion forecast vessel departures did not eventuatate leading to often erroneous or inconclusive assessments that could not be relied upon as the sole source to determine the areas for air surveillance or stationing of ships.
- As a consequence daily air surveillance was used to cover large areas where it could reasonably be expected the SIEV might attempt to approach Australian Territory. While as I stated in CMI 488, surface units were stationed close to Australian Territory where we felt that they were best positioned to respond to direct approaches and maximise Navy's chances of interception.
Knowledge of Abu Qussey Vessel's Departure
- Coastwatch initially reported the Abu Qussey vessel on 14 October 2001 based upon intelligence analysis in the daily Civil Maritime Surveillance Program (CMSP) Operation Summary (OPSUM). An intelligence report suggested that the vessel was delayed and Coastwatch assessed that the vessel remained a potential departure from Pelabuhan Ratu (06° 59 South 106° 33 East) for Christmas Island from Indonesia.
- The Abu Qussey vessel in the Coastwatch's CMSP OPSUM on PM 18 October 2001 through intelligence sources was 'reported' to have departed Indonesia for Christmas Island on 17 October 2001. Coastwatch assessed that the vessel could 'possibly' arrive at Christmas Island. late 18 October or early 19 October 2001. Coastwatch CMSP OPSUM, PM 19 October 2001 reported that the Abu Qussey vessel as a 'possible' as it was reported to have departed. Neither of these reports was confirmed.
- The vessel was next reported by Coastwatch on the 20 October 2001 when it was reported through intelligence sources that the Abu Qussey vessel had allegedly departed Sumur (06° 39.0 South 105° 34 East) on the West Coast of Java early AM hours 19 October 2001 instead of Pelabuhan Ratu as previously reported on the previous two days. The vessel was also reported by the source as 'allegedly as small and with 400 passengers onboard with some passengers not embarking because the vessel was overcrowded'. Coastwatch reporting to my headquarters in the daily CMSP OPSUM on PM 21 October 2001 repeated this advice that the vessel had allegedly departed Sumur without any additional information. Again the reports of 20 and 21 October were inconclusive.
Knowledge of Reports on Overdue Abu Qussey Vessel
- Late on 22 October 2001, Coastwatch advised my headquarters via the CMSP OPSUM that the Abu Qussey vessel was now considered overdue. Coastwatch assessed that the 'delay could be due to poor condition of the boat and large numbers onboard or the use of an alternative route to avoid detection'. The report also indicated that the boat had allegedly departed Sumur AM hours 19 October 2001.
- The Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) Australia also reported the vessel overdue on the 22 October 2001. In a facsimile to the Indonesian Search and Rescue agency and my headquarters, RCC stated that the vessel had departed the West Coast of Java on 19 October 2001 transiting the Sunda Strait for Christmas Island. The vessel was reported as 'has not yet arrived and concerns have been expressed for its safety'.
Level of Operation RELEX Activity during Abu Qussey Vessel Departure
- During the period 17-22 October 2001, Maritime Headquarters and the Navy was busy responding to two SIEVs in the Ashmore Island area and one in the Christmas Island area in accordance with Government direction.
- On the 17 October 2001, HMAS WARRAMUNGA was in the vicinity of Ashmore Island and began the process of returning SIEV 5 to international waters.
- HMAS ARUNTA was in the vicinity of Christmas Island during the period conducting Maritime Patrols and subsequently intercepted SIEV 6 some 67 nautical miles north of the Island, AM 19 October 2001. This SIEV was boarded PM 19 October 2001 within the Australian Contiguous Zone and subsequently escorted to Christmas Island where the custody of the vessel was transferred to Australian Federal Police and Australian Quarantine and Immigration Service in Flying Fish Cove.
- SIEV 7 was detected and intercepted in the vicinity of Ashmore Island on the morning of 22 October 2001 by HMAS BUNBURY and subsequently escorted to Ashmore Lagoon.
- On the 19 October 2001 when the Abu Qussey vessel departed Indonesia and foundered in the Sunda Strait, air surveillance assets and Navy surface units were conducting layered surveillance operations and responding to SIEVs close to Christmas Island and Ashmore Islands.
- Intelligence reports via Coastwatch's CMSP OPSUM advised Navy of the Abu Qussey vessel's 'possible' departure from Indonesia on 18 October 2001. The vessel's 'alleged' departure from a different location was also provided through intelligence reports via Coastwatch on 20 October 2001; the day after it had actually departed and sank later based on survivor's reports. Coastwatch concerns for the overdue vessel were raised on 22 October as notified by RCC Australia.
- While the intelligence reports regarding the Abu Qussey vessel were from Coastwatch assessments and normally reliable sources, they provided only an assessment of 'alleged' departures and 'possible' arrival windows. No specific confirmation of departure was ever received. Without confirmation and only reporting of alleged departures there was nothing in the Coastwatch reports that caused me to change the strategy of intercepting SIEVs anywhere else but close to Australian Territory.
- Finally, and to ensure categorically that there is no misunderstanding, my Headquarters did not receive any information (intelligence or otherwise) that could lead to a definitive assessment that the vessel had departed Indonesia. The only time this Headquarters received confirmation that the vessel had departed Indonesia was when Coastwatch concerns for the overdue vessel were raised on 22 October 2001, followed by media reports that the vessel had sunk. My answer at CMI 461 - 'Indeed the first time that the Navy knew this vessel 'had' sailed was when we were advised through the search and rescue organisation in Canberra that this vessel may have founded [sic] in the vicinity of Sunda Strait' therefore remains accurate.
Rear Admiral RAN
Maritime Commander Australia
17 May 2002
[See scans of this document : p1, p2, p3, p4]