Australian asylum boat rescue warning confusing: Indonesia

Michael Bachelard
June 22, 2012 - 3:26PM

Crucial differences have emerged between the Australian and Indonesian versions of the rescue attempt for an asylum seeker boat that sank yesterday.

The official number of survivors has been revised down from 110 to 109 and between 90 and 100 people are still unaccounted for.

Gagah Prakoso, the spokesman for Indonesian search and rescue organisation Basarnas, said it had received a fax at 11.45pm on Tuesday from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority warning of an asylum seeker vessel in distress.

At that stage, Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said, the boat was 38 nautical miles from Indonesia, and AMSA warned the boat to turn back.

But Mr Prakoso insisted yesterday that the fax had said the asylum seeker boat was from Sri Lanka and was already 129 nautical miles off Indonesia and 126 nautical miles from Christmas Island.

Mr Prakoso would not release the fax, saying it was a "state document".

He said that, at 6am on Wednesday, Basarnas had broadcast a warning asking ships to look out for the boat.

It had also dispatched its own boat, but it was a small, 36-metre fibreglass vessel not suitable for transit in the open sea particularly as the seas were heavy.

It did not find the boat but, yesterday, Barsanas received a second fax from AMSA, and dispatched two navy ships to the location from a location Mr Prakoso was not aware of.

Even though AMSA had been saying from yesterday afternoon that Indonesian search and rescue was co-ordinating the rescue operation, no Indonesian ships were on the scene, and they were still 12 hours or more away from arriving.

By 9am Indonesian time (midday Australian time) those boats had still not arrived at the site.

Mr Prakoso told Fairfax Media yesterday that the information from AMSA had been "confusing".

"AMSA first said there was a boat sailing from Sri Lanka heading to Australia carrying 100 people. That's it. Then AMSA sent more information saying there were 100 something people, then 200 something people. We're confused. But the co-ordinates are the same so we assume there is only one boat," he said.

- with AAP

Michael Bachelard is the Indonesia correspondent


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