One drowns as boatful of Papuans capsizes

21 April 2006
Nethy Dharma Somba, The Jakarta Post, Jayapura

A motorized boat transporting 21 Papuans believed to be on their way to seek asylum in Papua New Guinea capsized in Jayapura waters Thursday, killing one person and injuring two others.

Eighteen others are still missing.

Papua Police chief Brig. Gen. Tommy Jacobus said the incident occurred at about 4:30 a.m. when the boat, which was leaving Tanjung Ria Base G port in Jayapura on its way to Vanimo, Papua New Guinea, was hit by huge waves, causing it to overturn.

The incident was witnessed by La Nuri, a fisherman who was just returning from sea. He assisted the two injured passengers before reporting the case to Papua Police air and sea operation unit.

"La Nuri reported the case and the findings of two injured passengers and a dead body at around 6 a.m. We took the victims to hospital," Tommy said.

The dead man, Abisay Salmon Keiya, as well as the two injured -- John Wenda and Yulianus Pigome -- were all taken to Dok II hospital.

Once there, John recalled the boat being pounded by huge waves and passengers being thrown into the water, where they struggled to stay afloat.

The Papuan said he had been living for years in Belowara village, Vanimo, Papua New Guinea but went to Jayapura to stock up on basic goods. He was intending to head back to Vanimo on Thursday.

He said he did not know any of the other passengers.

Suspicions the boat's passengers were asylum seekers came on the grounds the Bintang Kejora flag of the separatist Free Papuan Movement was found in one of the 15 rescued backpacks along with a banner reading "West Papua students are hunted by the TNI (the Indonesian Military)/Polri (the National Police) so we seek asylum in another country" and the lyrics of Mars Suaka Politik (Asylum Seeker's Marching Tune).

Tommy said it was likely the passengers were planning to display the banner and flag to attract media attention upon their arrival in Papua New Guinea.

Documents found in the 15 bags -- largely student IDs and school diplomas -- indicated most of the passengers were students.

Tommy said the TNI and Polri in Papua had not been in pursuit of the students. He said the rumors were started by a certain group who had arranged the asylum seekers' departure. However, he did not name the group.

"Who is hunting down the students? No one. The police have issued a list of 19 wanted people related to the Abepura case. Apart from those 19 people, no one is being hunted down. It's simply an excuse made following the (Australian government's) move to grant temporary visas to 42 Papuans," he said.

A group of 43 Papuans arrived on a boat in northern Australia in January to seek asylum on the grounds they faced persecution at home. Forty-two of them have been granted temporary visas, the case of the 43rd is under consideration.

Five security personnel were killed in the bloody Abepura incident following a clash against protesters opposing the presence of mining company PT Freeport in Papua province outside Cendrawasih University last month.

The chief of Jayapura Police, Adj. Sr. Comr. Taufik Pribadi, said his office would work together with Papua Police's air and water unit in the search for the 18 missing passengers.


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