Survivor relives boatpeople disaster

By Ainsley Pavey
5 April 2004

A SURVIVOR of an illegal immigrant boat disaster that claimed 353 lives off Australia relived the horror of the voyage in court today.

Rami Abbas Akram, 20, who was aboard the overcrowded Siev-X with his mother when it sank, was close to tears in Brisbane's Magistrates Court today as he gave evidence at a committal hearing against an accused people smuggler.

Khaleed Daoed, 37, wept as he faced 12 charges under Australia's Migration Act, arising from two voyages to Christmas Island: one that landed safely on August 4, 2001, and a second that sank in rough seas offshore.

The Iraqi goldsmith faces a maximum 20-year jail term over allegations he sold tickets, collected money and kept books for the voyage.

Mr Akram, who was giving evidence through an Arabic interpreter at the three-day hearing, told the court his friend drowned when the boat capsized near Christmas Island.

His voice shook as he told the court he spent a night at sea waiting to be rescued.

Mr Akram now lives in Melbourne on a five-year temporary protection visa after being among 45 illegal immigrants rescued on October 19, 2001.

Another survivor, 20-year-old Raid Sabah Sharmookh, told the court he was among 23 asylum seekers to escape onto a fishing vessel before the sinking.

Mr Sharmookh said he left his homeland in 2000, travelling through Malaysia to Indonesia in the hope of entering Australia illegally.

He said he had waited two years to enter Australia legally when he paid Daoed $600 for passage on Siev-X.

Mr Sharmookh said Daoed marked off names as people boarded buses at midnight for the beachside township of Cipanas in Indonesia.

He told the court Daoed informed the passengers he was "praying" as they boarded.

Daoed, who was extradited from Sweden by Australian Federal Police last year, is accused of helping convicted people smuggler Abu Quassey.

The Egyptian was tried and jailed last year in Egypt for seven years for accidental manslaughter over the sinking.

Daoed's solicitor Peter Russo said he would be pleading not guilty, on the grounds that he was acting as an interpreter on humanitarian grounds because he had relatives aboard the doomed vessel.

The hearing continues.



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