Threat of jail for Tampa skipper
Herald Sun
10 March 2003

THE Howard Government eavesdropped on private conversations between the captain of the Tampa, his employers, their lawyers, and possibly even the Norwegian Government, a new book claims.

This is the first time the extent of Australia's spying activity during the Tampa incident has been revealed. The Defence Signals Directorate reported directly to the Government's people-smuggling taskforce during the nine-day stand-off in August and September 2001. But the Tampa captain, Arne Rinnan, and his employers, the Wallenius Wilhelmsen Line, suspected the surveillance and played along to convey their defiance during the crisis, authors David Marr and Marian Wilkinson write in Dark Victory, which is published today. The book reveals that Captain Rinnan was threatened by Canberra with jail at least three times, including for people smuggling.

New details of the Government's illegal spying on the Tampa's communications with its lawyers are among several key revelations contained in the book, which also explores the children overboard affair and the tragic sinking of the boat known as SIEV-X.

Marr and Wilkinson also reveal:

  • IMMIGRATION Minister Philip Ruddock shocked Australian officials in Jakarta when he canvassed the possibility that pirates could attack asylum-seekers' boats.
  • AUSTRALIA risked the lives of the 438 people aboard the Palapa by delaying responding to mayday calls, hoping it would return to Indonesia. These people were instead rescued by the Tampa.
  • PRIME Minister John Howard withheld from the public information about the poor health of several of the asylum seekers aboard the Tampa.
  • FORMER secretary of the Prime Minister's Department, Max Moore-Wilton, rode roughshod over the bureaucracy to co-ordinate efforts to block the Tampa from docking at Christmas Island, but the ultimate decision was made by Mr Howard.
  • THE Government went to extraordinary efforts to prevent the Tampa's passengers lodging a legally binding claim for asylum in Australia.
The two Sydney journalists have interviewed most of the major players in the Tampa crisis, including more than a dozen of the Afghan asylum-seekers, the crew and owners, Mr Ruddock, Norwegian ministers and senior government bureaucrats.

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