SIEV X mourners remember the nameless deadBy Andra Jackson
October 20, 2005
FOUR years ago Bahja Hassan lost an uncle, his wife and their five children, aged four to 11, when the SIEV X sank.
Ms Hassan, who was born in Iraq and now lives in Whittlesea, is in no doubt over who is to blame for her loss.
"I blame the Australian Navy and the Indonesian smugglers for their deaths," she said yesterday, at the commemoration of a memorial for the 353 asylum seekers who lost their lives when the boat sank.
Only 45 people survived the tragedy, rescued 20 hours later by Indonesian fishing vessels.
A Melbourne Islamic leader yesterday challenged the Australian Navy to explain why it didn't go to the rescue of the SIEV X as the vessel, overloaded with people, started taking water.
Sheikh Issa, from the Islamic Council of Victoria, said he understood the vessel sank close to Australian waters where the Australian Navy was operating.
"So if there was a willingness to save them, that could have been done.
"We remember how there was a ship called Tampa. That ship saved a lot of people," he said, referring to the Norwegian ship that rescued 433 asylum seekers a month earlier.
"Why was the Tampa path not emulated by the Australian Navy?"
The tragedy should be highlighted in international forums, he said. "The refugees have every right to be taken care of."
He said nearly all the victims were Muslims, mainly from "wrecked countries" such as Iraq. "The community is very disappointed at this tragedy and the lack of response from the Government. They did not show any sympathy."
At a simple ceremony in the Flagstaff Gardens, he read from the Koran and said "in Islamic literature, we call such people martyrs because they were coming for noble ideas - to have a better life for their families."
Sheikh Issa also called on the Australian Federal Police to relent on their refusal to release the names of the dead. "People say there is this number 353 but why are they kept nameless?" he said.
He proposed their names be recorded on a memorial for relatives to see.
A spokesman for Defence Minister Robert Hill referred to the Select Committee on a Certain Maritime Incident report, which found extensive maritime surveillance on Australia's northern approaches was under way at the time.
On October 19, 2001, the helicopter from HMAS Arunta was assigned to searching an area where the SIEV X survivors were waiting for help, but turned back after running low on fuel.
Anger and grief: Bahja Hassan lost seven family members in the SIEV X disaster.Photo: Nicole Emanuel