Don't blame navy for SIEV-X tragedy

The Age
21 October 2005

THE Islamic Council of Victoria's Sheikh Issa owes the Royal Australian Navy an apology for his calumny that the navy was somehow involved in the 2001 sinking of SIEV-X ( The Age, 20/10). This old and leaky Indonesian fishing vessel was grossly overloaded at gunpoint by Iraqi, Egyptian and Indonesian people smugglers and subsequently sank during a storm in what has always been regarded as geographically Indonesian waters about 70 kilometres south of Java. The sinking occurred more than 2200 kilometres from mainland Australia and some 350 kilometres from the nearest Australian territory of Christmas Island. As the subsequent Senate inquiry revealed, the nearest Australian warships and aircraft were hundreds of kilometres away during and after the sinking. The RAN had no way of knowing of the tragedy but obviously would have helped if it had known and could have assisted. [emphasis added]

More to the point, the sinking occurred well within Indonesia's zone of international search and rescue responsibility. It is simply irresponsible at best to wrongly blame the RAN when an unseaworthy Indonesian boat on a smuggling voyage sinks off the Indonesian coast well inside the Indonesian search and rescue zone.

The grief of SIEV-X survivor Bahja Hassan is understandable, but blaming the RAN is simple psychological transference with no factual foundation and will not help resolution of her grief.

Neil James, executive director, Australia Defence Association, Canberra


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