People smuggler jailed for five years after he was extradited to Australia in January

Paul Toohey
September 03, 2008
The Australian

ON Achmad Olong's people-smuggling vessel, children travelled for free but their parents paid a price.

When officers from HMAS Dubbo intercepted the KM Haparan Satu off Ashmore Reef on November 1, 1999, they were confronted by a hideous stench.

Rubbish was strewn on the decks and the wet season tropical heat was pressing.

A woman was miscarrying, another was in labour and a man was lying on deck with an intravenous drip in his arm. The crew from the patrol boat needed to set up a makeshift infirmary in the vessel's wheelhouse.

Olong, an Indonesian citizen, was finally arrested in July last year as he entered Thailand with his family for a holiday.

He was extradited to Australia in January to face charges for bringing 353 Iraqi, Kuwaiti, Afghan, Algerian, Palestinian and Iranian asylum-seekers to Ashmore Reef.

The Northern Territory Supreme Court in Darwin heard yesterday that Olong, 42, came from a well-to-do Indonesian family. Using upfront money paid by those desperate to get to Australia, and the backing of other people smugglers, he bought the Harapan Satu for the equivalent of $83,000.

Adults paid between $US1700 and $US3500 for their passage. The higher paying customers were accommodated in Jakarta hotels while waiting to make the voyage.

The smuggler made several unsuccessful attempts to leave Indonesian waters. On the first occasion, the boat needed repairs; on the second attempt, after gathering 270 people together on a beach, it hit a reef and they had to return to shore.

It appeared that the more the journey was delayed, the more people Olong needed to ferry in order to pay for repairs and debts. The three-day trip to Ashmore was finally completed, with the passengers fully intending to be apprehended upon arrival.

The scene that confronted the crew of HMAS Dubbo was a familiar one of people holding up babies and throwing passports into the sea.

The vessel was in otherwise good condition but its engine had been sabotaged.

It was said in Olong's defence that he was a devout Muslim who had studied theology, philosophy and Arabic and had been drawn into the people-smuggling business after his small coal mine began having difficulties.

It was claimed he had genuine concerns for the plight of Iraqi people, but judge Steve Southwood said yesterday there was no question Olong was motivated by profit.

Justice Southwood said Olong had lost ownership of his mine since his arrest and while awaiting his extradition to Australia in a Thai prison had contracted tuberculosis.

He said Olong had pleaded guilty to a charge of people smuggling, had not fought the extradition proceedings and was genuinely remorseful. He was sentenced to five years' jail with a 2 1/2 year non-parole period, backdated to when he was arrested in Thailand.


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