Cmdr Banks-Distinguished senators, I am Commander Norman Stewart Banks. I am an officer with 25 years service in the Royal Australian Navy. Since 6 July 2000, I have had the privilege to command the guided missile frigate HMAS Adelaide. I expect to relinquish that command in the normal course on 26 June 2002. I make this statement in my capacity as the commanding officer of HMAS Adelaide.
I also wish to advise the Senate that I make this statement of my own volition. I have not been coached, instructed or directed in any guise, direct or implied. To the contrary, and as is my norm, senior officers have consistently instructed me to open with a straight bat.
As a career professional, I would ask the honourable senators to respect that I am unashamedly apolitical and that I cannot and will not make comment on matters of government policy. As a loyal servant, I will desist from any comment that could be remotely construed as critical of my senior officers-officers for whom I have a tremendous professional and personal respect.
I will, however, speak freely about the events of 6 to 10 October 2001 and the circumstances surrounding what became known as SIEV4-suspect illegal entry vessel-or, as you know it, `a certain maritime incident'. I wish to also emphasise that the specific detail of events of that time have, to some extent, been superseded in my mind by many other, more recent activities.
To bring some situational and factual awareness back, I have had recourse to refer to notes and signals taken at the time but retained in HMAS Adelaide throughout. I have also refreshed my memory since the ship's return to Australia on 13 March 2002 by a cursory review of the Bryant, Powell and Hansard reports-documents I had not seen until I returned to Australia.
Nevertheless, it is also apposite to say that the events of SIEV4 were by their very nature extremely significant and, even without the subsequent furore and the repeated investigations, the rescue of 223 unauthorised arrivals by HMAS Adelaide would always have stayed in my immediate recall as a most memorable incident. Believe me, I have relived the events of that period in early October thereafter and many times since.
Wherever possible, I have tried to avoid being influenced by media comment-being absent from Australia for the period 31 October to 13 March has made that task a little easier. I was in Australia during the period 6 to 8 November. Access to domestic public information is not easy on a deployed warship. Whilst I have had some information passed to me, I have not had the full story that everyone else in Australia has seen in the various media articles.
All statements I make are of my own making and have not been reviewed by other witnesses. I can make no comment on the Pacific solution, as I have had no involvement in that matter and I have only been involved in SIEV4.
As part of my preamble, I should also advise that until 2000 I worked at Strategic Command in the Australian Defence Headquarters organisation on the Operations staff and had dealings with illegal immigration policy matters. I dealt with the issue as a staff officer, Maritime Operations, and attended the Prime Minister's task force interdepartmental committee in 1999 and 2000, representing Major General Keating. Accordingly, I have worked alongside a number of the key players involved in that policy matter at the working level, including Ms Bryant, Ms Halton, Mr Farmer and Mr Jordana. I have also met Senator Collins before, when she kindly visited HMAS Adelaide for a short sea ride-I think it was in May-but that was well before SIEV4. I know of Mike Scrafton from his days in Defence but not since. I have also hosted Senator Hill on board in his capacity as the new Minister for Defence. Obviously, I know all the senior military officers involved in this matter. Apart from that, I have had no involvement with other people on this matter, and I stand here largely with my own information.
I now intend to outline a short and largely chronological description of the events that summarise the involvement of HMAS Adelaide in the interception, detention, escort and tow of a 20- to 25-metre wooden-hulled type III Indonesian vessel that became known by the department of immigration identifier SIEV4, and the subsequent rescue of 223 unauthorised arrivals when that boat unfortunately sank in the vicinity of Christmas Island on 8 October 2001.
It would not be a Senate appearance by me without photographs. I now intend to supplement that statement with some photographs from the 420 taken on board HMAS Adelaide. These are a `best of' selection which in my mind will set the scene and add some context to your deliberations. With your leave, I present those photographs.
CHAIR-As there is no objection, leave is granted.
Cmdr Banks-I have two sets of large photos. They are numbered 1 to 31, and I will draw attention to them as we go through. I have a set here as well, and I have a copy of them on disk if they need to be reproduced.
CHAIR-I am not sure how we are going to manage this, but I am sure we will.
Cmdr Banks-HMAS Adelaide deployed on 16 July 2001 for a series of exercises to promote regional engagement in South-East Asia. On 17 September 2001, Adelaide was diverted to Operation Relex. We departed from Singapore and sprinted through the Indonesian archipelago to join HMAS Arunta for a handover of humanitarian aid stores and an S70B helicopter. On 19 September, HMAS Adelaide chopped operational control to Commander Joint Task Force 639, and Adelaide assumed duties as the western surveillance and response group and commenced a maritime surveillance and response patrol in the vicinity of Christmas Island. The Operation Relex mission was assumed without the benefit of any pre-briefs, and the ship and I read into the task vide DISCON-defence integrated secure communications network-messages which were addressed to the ship.
In summary, HMAS Adelaide had been directed by Commander Joint Task Force 639 to conduct a maritime surveillance and response patrol to contribute to a whole of government approach to deter unauthorised boat arrivals-UBAs, as they were then known-from entering Australian territorial waters. I was also directed to prevent potential illegal immigrants- henceforth referred to as `unauthorised arrivals'-from gaining access to the Australian migration zone by containing them in designated locations and providing humanitarian assistance until their transfer to transportation for onward movement out of the Operation Relex area of operations could be provided. I was further directed to achieve this mission without loss of life or serious injury to any party.
On 22 September, Commodore Jim Stapleton, RAN, relinquished duty as Commander JTF 639 and COMNORCOM, Brigadier Mike Silverstone, assumed duty as Commander JTF 639. He operated from our joint staff headquarters in Darwin. Brigadier Silverstone's `Commander's intent' was to conduct surveillance and response operations to contribute to a whole of government approach to deter unauthorised boat arrivals from entering Australian waters. This was to be achieved by intercept and warning-off on the high seas. If the unauthorised arrivals gained access to the Australian contiguous zone, a boarding party was to detain the SIEV, sail it to the outer edge of that contiguous zone and, if safe, release it. Should the SIEV re-enter the zone then a boarding party was to detain the SIEV and crew and take them to a designated holding area, contain the situation and manage the unauthorised arrivals in a compliant state, pending a government determination on transfer and/or transportation. At no stage were unauthorised arrivals to have access to the Australian migration zone. The mission was to be achieved without loss of life or serious injury to any party.
Throughout the period the Commander Joint Task Force 639 and I discussed the operation and the contingency plans with his staff and indeed with the commander. This was usually done by telephone, and daily `fireside chats', as we came to know them, were held by telephone between me and the commander and, I believe, between the commander and the other commanders. In response to direction, Adelaide developed a comprehensive plan for a mass embarkation of unauthorised arrivals based on a safety-of-life-at-sea incident-most probably either a sinking or a sunken SIEV.
Adelaide had calculated the possible number of unauthorised arrivals the ship's forecastle deck could accommodate with a rehearsal using the ship's company. Whilst 300-plus was within our capacity, I had also spent considerable time trying to carry the message that Adelaide was a frigate and did not have the capacity or the capability to sustain unauthorised arrivals on board other than for a very short period. I viewed our role as an intermediate transport ferry vice a holding hulk ship. With a designated troop carrying capacity, Tobruk and Manoora had the better capability to role shift to support an embarkation of unauthorised arrivals. Certainly, by 6 October, I considered that Adelaide was well prepared for any such humanitarian task that might arise, albeit only an ad hoc solution with a short duration being in our retinue.
On Saturday, 6 October, at about 1350G-the time zone that takes place in Christmas Island-and in response to shore based secret intelligence cuing, HMAS Adelaide, with a Royal Australian Air Force P3-C Orion aircraft, call sign MARINER 1, assistance intercepted a critical contact of interest with approximately 50 persons visible on deck 100 nautical miles north of Christmas Island. Adelaide assumed the on-scene commander and manoeuvred to shadow the CCOI, critical contact of interest, to maintain on-the-horizon radar-visual contact and to be ready to pass deterrence warnings by long-range rigid hull inflatable boat-henceforth referred to as RHIB. The 20 to 25 metre wooden hulled vessel initially flew an Indonesian national flag and was on the high seas well north of Australia's area of jurisdiction but was tracking south at about eight knots. There was every expectation that this was a SIEV bound for Christmas Island. Of note, the P3-C reported the personnel on board were all wearing life jackets.
That evening sunset took place at 1754G. The interception, shadow and delivery of the department of immigration warnings phase of the mission proceeded largely without incident and routine reports were signalled to all the relevant operational authorities in accordance with well-established maritime interception operation standard operating procedures. Of note, the unauthorised arrivals displayed visible and oral aggression and would not accept delivery of the DIMA warning notices. I reported that in one of my sit reps. That evening I was directed to acknowledge receipt of instructions on how to handle SIEV4. I was to deter the SIEV and its passengers from seeking access to Christmas Island. Again, secret reporting confirmed that. In doing so, I was to take every reasonable means to achieve the mission without needlessly risking the safety and wellbeing of my crew, the ship-that is, Adelaide-and the lives of the unauthorised arrivals on board the SIEV. I was also authorised to exercise my judgment to board, but only when so ordered by the Commander Joint Task Force, and to remove the vessel from the Australian contiguous zone and, if need be, to detain and escort the SIEV to the vicinity of Christmas Island. But in no way was I to allow the unauthorised arrivals access to Christmas Island.
The long-range RHIB insertion confirmed the vessel was a SIEV and it was considered to be the Olong vessel that I had been advised had departed Indonesia on 5 October. Based on information from the unauthorised arrivals, the RHIB boarding party had revised the number of unauthorised arrivals to be in the order of 208 personnel, all of Middle Eastern and/or Iraqi origin. Just about all the personnel seen, or at least 80 per cent, were wearing life jackets. A more accurate count of the souls on board was not possible, given that it was night-time, the long-range RHIB team had not boarded the vessel, as we had no authority to do so, and the information was freely provided by the passengers and therefore assumed to be reliable. The unauthorised arrivals comprised a 50:50 ratio of males to females with at least eight to 10 children sighted. One very small child, an infant, was visible, and a second small child was seen holding a sign that read `SOS'. Identification of the crew-presumed to be Indonesian-was difficult and not really effected until 8 October. Adelaide determined the vessel was seaworthy and that an in extremis or safety of life at sea situation was not evident. Adelaide maintained a shadow role and awaited direction from Commander Joint Task Force 639. Again a number of sit reps were exchanged.
Commander JTF 639 staff issued photos of the SIEV-the unauthorised arrivals-passed digitally by HMAS Adelaide via JCSS imagery, which was also presumably obtained from the P3 flight earlier. One of the photos is numbered one and it shows a number of, in your vernacular, SUNCs-I think the term now is `unauthorised arrivals'-being viewed from the long-range RHIB. You can see its darkness and you can see they are wearing life jackets. In this photo you can see no signs of distress. This photo is provided in the context of the life jackets and the fact that the initial operation took place in darkness.
Senator FAULKNER-Where did you say that photo was taken from?
Cmdr Banks-It was taken from the long-range RHIB, the 7.2 metre boat, adjacent to SIEV4. This photo was actually taken from the starboard side of the SIEV. Due to the height differential you can see that the RHIB crew are actually looking up into the SIEV, which was part of the problem in getting them on board subsequently.
From the experience of the initial long-range RHIB, it was considered that any subsequent boarding would be problematic and that a non-compliant action, potentially employing the graduated use of force, was likely to be necessary. Commander Joint Task Force directed that I equip and prepare the boarding party to achieve the task of successfully boarding the SIEV at the first attempt. At 0130G, the RHIB from Adelaide was again alongside the SIEV, with a boarding party at the ready. At 0139G, on Sunday, 7 October, the SIEV altered course towards Christmas Island, the lights of which were now becoming visible on the horizon. We were getting the loom of Christmas Island on the horizon. By 0230G, the SIEV entered the Australian contiguous zone. From 0300G, warnings to heave-to were passed in English and Bahasa by radio and loudhailer both from Adelaide and the alongside RHIB, and communications were also attempted in Lebanese and Arabic by a sailor of Lebanese origin. My boarding party log would refer to that in detail.
After telephone conversations with, and approval from, Commander Joint Task Force 639, I commenced action to compel the SIEV to heave-to to allow my boarding party to embark and eventually commenced firing aimed small arms-5.56 mm Steyr-and 12.5 mm .50 cal machine gun warning shots ahead of the vessel at 0359G on 7 October, and again at 0409G, 0416G and 0420G. The SIEV was, at this stage, well inside the Australian contiguous zone, approximately two to three miles from the Australian territorial waters of Christmas Island, and proceeding directly towards Christmas Island at about seven knots. I need to emphasise that only aimed shots were fired directly into the water, an area 50 feet to 75 feet ahead of the vessel. A searchlight was used to illuminate both the weapon firer and the area in the water ahead of the vessel where the rounds were to land. This ad hoc process was introduced by me to clearly show my intent.
Warnings on loudspeaker continued throughout. The vessel did not heave-to and at 0430G the Adelaide manoeuvred more aggressively close to the vessel to slow it down. This facilitated a distraction and allowed an assault type non-compliant boarding, using the RHIB, to be effected whilst the vessel was still under way.
Having conducted a successful insertion of the boarding party in darkness, between the time 0439 and 0442G, I directed the vessel to turn towards Indonesia and, as directed by CJTF, prepared to provide any necessary but basic humanitarian assistance to calm the unauthorised arrivals. Should the vessel not continue to return to Indonesia, I was to provide sufficient delay to allow authorities to prepare Christmas Island for possible reception of the unauthorised arrivals. The boarding party of nine estimated there were 250 unauthorised arrivals on board. This number was also proven incorrect. The boarding party reported that they were angry, disappointed and making veiled threats to commit suicide, gesturing with wooden sticks and being very vocal. One unauthorised arrival jumped overboard but was promptly recovered by the RHIB. The SIEV was eventually turned around and ground made to the north. I reported that in one of my sit reps.
At 0539G, sunrise took place. The second photograph, and photos Nos 2 to 9 show the sequence of events in relation to the man overboard. Photograph No. 2 clearly shows it is daylight, but the photo has been enhanced, in the sense of contrast and brilliance, to allow you to see what we saw. This period was the period of morning twilight, so darkness had become dawn and was becoming sunrise, but the ambient light was such that it was all clearly seen by the naked eye. You could also see from here that the visibility was very good. I think there was a report somewhere that I could only see 200 yards or 300 yards if I was lucky. That is erroneous. I could see for several miles. Photo No. 2 also shows some of the SUNCs on top of the coach-house preparing to jump overboard.
Photo 3 shows a number of heads bobbing in the water and the RHIB in attendance. The RHIB already has one or two people embarked, who are wearing orange life jackets-the same life jackets from the earlier SIEV photo-and there are four heads in the water about to be recovered by the RHIB. Photo 4 is a general photo of Adelaide getting much closer now that this event has taken place. There I am trying to provide more presence and assert my control. You can see that there are a number of people on the coach-house-some of whom subsequently jumped-and the beginning of the stages of a man dressing child in a life jacket at the aft or end of the coach-house about 2 or 3 metres from that aerial, Senator Collins. Photo 5 again shows that in a little more detail as Adelaide got closer.
In photo 6, you can see the difference in the light as the photos have been adjusted. Photos 7 and 8 are of similar events. I would ask the Senate to note in photograph 8 that at that stage, whilst the boat was seaworthy, I had some concerns about it. You can see water coming out over the deck and running down the ship's side and you can also see that the boarding party are very crowded by the large number of SUNCs present and that the SUNCs are beginning to cause damage to the SIEV-the gateway is removed. And in photo 7 there are some items being discarded overboard.
CHAIR-In photo 7 you can see water coming from the decks, as well.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Commander, is the child still at the top?
Cmdr Banks-Not in photo 8. In photo 6 the child is still sitting on the coach-house. In photo 7 the child has been returned inside the coach-house and those are some of the unauthorised arrivals who came up and helped move that father-the man I assume to be her father-and child back inside.
Senator JACINTA COLLINS-Do you know which rail the child was held over?
Cmdr Banks-It would be on the starboard side aft, immediately adjacent to the coach- house where those people were standing. If you look at photo 6 you can see quite clearly that she was sitting on top of the coach-house adjacent to the starboard side railing. It may be an optical illusion for you-it looks like the port side. It was actually the starboard side that she was on. The photo was taken on the port side.
Photo 8 shows one of the males preparing to jump. I do not have a photo that shows that he actually jumped.
Photo 9 shows Adelaide's RHIB returning to Adelaide. I think we had just embarked the medical sailor and our intent was to take him back to the SIEV. It shows two of the people recovered from the water in the RHIB. Both are male, both are Middle Eastern and both are wearing life jackets. There is some conjecture and one is assessed as possibly being a youth. His age was never verified. There was conjecture that he may have been a teenager-13, 14 or 15. Other people said he was a 17-,18- or 19-year-old. One or two people thought he may have been in his early twenties.
I guess some of my photos are out of sequence now. After first light the first man overboard took place at 0506 and others between the times 0543 and 0556G. Fourteen unauthorised arrivals jumped or were thrown overboard. I use the words `thrown overboard' here advisedly. Those were the words that were used in my signal and reported repeatedly. They jumped or were thrown overboard in a series of voluntary actions by the unauthorised arrivals. All were recovered by Adelaide's RHIBs and returned to the SIEV. What is not shown in the photographs is that I had two RHIBs in the water and I used both RHIBs to recover the people. An FFG is normally only fitted with one RHIB but we were able to acquire two RHIBs by a deft deal and I am very grateful that we had two RHIBs for that operation. I do not believe that it would have been successfully concluded without the presence of a second boat.
Commander JTF 639 was informed of this action, of the people overboard and their recovery, by telephone and signal. A second boarding party of nine was inserted to better restore control and, hopefully, to prevent a mass exodus to force a safety of life at sea situation, a consideration which was very much on my mind. In my sit rep message No. 9, and in the boarding log, I did not make mention of a child held over the side incident, as I viewed this event largely as an inconsequential incident in the overall scheme of things.
The SIEV continued northward, with Adelaide in a close escort role, to the outer limit of the Christmas Island contiguous zone. The ship provided some medical assistance, and the boarding party revised the number of souls on board to 186; this number was, eventually, also proven incorrect. Photograph No. 10 shows a shot from the coach-house, looking down into the SIEV, showing the starboard side aspect. The sailor in grey overalls is the ship's medical sailor. He is providing aid to a number of people. In the foreground you can see an IV drip being hung up on the coach-house, and the line into the wrist of the woman lying down with a life jacket. That was repeated for a number of people who were alleging they were dehydrated; they were treated by our boarding party and their medical teams.
Efforts to provide assistance, such as water, were not welcomed. Indeed, on occasions, the water that we provided was thrown overboard by the unauthorised arrivals on receipt. Again, I reported that in the signal. With 200-plus irate personnel on board and a boarding team of 18, all
operating in a small and very unfamiliar vessel, it was not a surprise to me that the vessel was continually being sabotaged. The steering and the engines were disabled at various times. Vandalism and arson had been conducted, and continued. However, ground was made northward, and the boarding party were extracted from the SIEV at 1029G, as the SIEV exited out of Australian jurisdiction 24 miles from Christmas Island. The SIEV and the SUNCs were directed to Indonesia. They were shown a chart, and I also provided a hand-held compass to assist them with that. They had earlier thrown their own compass overboard.
Having returned the boarding party to Adelaide, Adelaide remained outside the nominal visual range and used EOTS, the electro-optical tracking system, to observe the SIEV, which was now, again, dead in the water about five nautical miles from Adelaide. My primary focus here was an expectation that the SIEV was generating a safety of life at sea situation, and I retained a reasonable concern for the unauthorised arrivals' safety, noting the deteriorating afternoon weather and the general state of the vessel, whose steering was certainly tenuous. We had gone to some lengths to help repair that steering, but it was, arguably, still a tenuous steering system.
While the mission had been accomplished and the SIEV had been deterred from effecting an entry into the Australian contiguous zone, and I had done that without injury or loss of life, I was not comfortable that a win-win situation had been achieved. With a number of women and children on board the SIEV, and the state of repair of the steering and the engines, a distress call was expected sooner or later. Concerned about that seaworthiness and, to some extent, situating the likely appreciation that the boat would eventually declare itself in distress, I remained out of obvious visual range but took station a prudent five nautical miles clear of the SIEV, such that I maintained radar and EOTS surveillance and that could be continued.
I was not surprised that, at about 1.39G-correction: at approximately 1330G; I am having a great time with these times, and I understand that we will all have difficulty with times-on 7 October, the SIEV hoisted a signal consisting of a square flag with a ball, or something resembling a ball, hanging below it. Additionally, several unauthorised arrivals were slowly and repeatedly raising and lowering their arms outstretched to each side. Photograph 11 is taken somewhat after that time, because I am quite close to the SIEV. You can see a man waving a white flag, and the people waving to us. Unfortunately a still photograph does not quite show the waving, but they were gesturing.
In accordance with the international conventions, I took this to be an international distress call and had this verified by my navigator and my on-watch PWO. As reported in signal messages, and in discussions with the commander, CJTF 639, the SIEV was considered a vessel in distress and a decision was made to tow the SIEV to Christmas Island to await government determination. The boarding party insertion and subsequent tow proceeded without incident until the afternoon of Monday, 8 October. Throughout, the unauthorised arrivals were almost delighted to be in our care, and the mood and bonhomie had decidedly changed. Disturbances and aggression were no longer evident.
Photograph 12 shows just the moment before we passed the tow to SIEV. You can see in the background the SIEV, the water containers, and all those items are back on board. She is displaying a distress symbol, the white flag with a black ball, and we are preparing to tow the SIEV. I have a towing line flaked out on Adelaide's flight deck and we are manoeuvring to pass
that tow. The vessel was towed for a period of just over 24 hours without incident. A good tow was maintained and a speed of advance of two to three knots was made. The vessel was towed back into the Christmas Island contiguous zone but remained out of sight of land throughout. At night-time the loom of lights were visual but during the day it was pretty hard to see the land from the cloud and their lower elevation. Food, water and humanitarian aid, including medical checks, were provided. Adelaide set up a racetrack north of Christmas Island. I wanted to maintain my situational position whilst determinations were made.
On Sunday, 7 October, Adelaide was informed that the ship would return to Fleet Base West and prepare to redeploy to the Middle East as part of an ADF contribution to the international response to global terrorism. That information was formally confirmed on 8 October. I mention this in a contextual sense as this next deployment was also very much in the forefront of my mind throughout the ensuing events of SIEV4. I had been aware of the possibility that the Adelaide would redeploy, or could redeploy, from 5 October.
After repeated efforts to stem the water ingress to the SIEV's hull, and largely without warning, at 1700G on Monday, 8 October, the SIEV began to rapidly sink in a position 16 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island. Photograph 13 shows the vessel from about 200 yards from the Adelaide. You can see there that the vessel is much lower in the water than it was in earlier photographs. You can see the towline is still in the water-the tow is slack-though we stopped the tow to pass a peri-jet hose-the peri-jet is a pump on board Adelaide. We exhausted portable pumps. I then took the unusual move of passing hoses to the SIEV, put those hoses in the SIEV and used the pumps on Adelaide to discharge the water from the SIEV. As you are aware, that was ineffectual in the end, although for some time it actually stopped the water ingress and reduced the water ingress. However, circumstances did change at 1700.
The next photographs, 14 to 23, go through the subsequent sinking of the SIEV. The tow was stopped and the embarked Navy steaming party of 11-the number had been increased to 11; we were actually about to serve up the evening meal-effected what I called a `controlled abandon ship' from SIEV4. Adelaide launched six 25-man life rafts and, with two 7.2 metre RHIBs already in the water, commenced a rescue of the unauthorised arrivals, all of whom were in the water. I will talk through some of these photographs if I can beg your indulgence.
Photograph 14 shows that the vessel went bow down very rapidly. You can see the sea-state a little clearer in this shot-and there is a slight sea-state-showing that the boat was taking water over the deck. Some of the luggage started to float out of the SIEV and the people-in a natural panic-began to move around the SIEV and affect the vessel's stability. I think I have timings for these photos as well.
Photo 15 was taken in the afternoon of 8 October. It shows the SIEV is now nose down and the forward RHIB has just extracted an infant from the port side of the SIEV. The bow of the vessel is intact and it is clear evidence that the tow had not caused the vessel to break up. I believe that one of the press reports was that we pulled the bow off the vessel. I also wish to emphasise the point that the infant was extracted to the RHIB. People on board the SIEV were concerned. They passed the baby to our RHIB and we took it away as one of the first people off the SIEV.
Photo 16, taken shortly thereafter, shows the vessel settling bow down. Clearly the vessel is now sinking and personnel are getting ready to be evacuated firstly to the RHIBs. Lots more of their personal luggage is floating away and, indeed, becoming flotsam and jetsam.
Photo 17 shows the situation deteriorating. People have now taken to the water and a safety of life at sea situation has clearly unfolded. The order to launch life rafts was given well before that.
Photo 18 shows the vessel listing heavily to port. Most people are now off-many are still in the water but most are now off the SIEV.
Photo 19 shows one of the life rafts, reasonably crowded with the unauthorised arrivals. For information, the orange life jackets are those that were provided with the SIEV. The yellow and sort of green coloured ones are those that were provided by Adelaide.
Photo 20 shows the SIEV now settling again bow down and listing this time to starboard. Four of the life rafts are in the water and there is evidence that part of the boat had begun breaking up. That photo was taken some time between 1730 and 1800.
Photo 21 is a rather moving photograph of a small infant having been placed in the life raft before other people got into the life raft to move the child out. You can see my crew standing by to assist and, indeed, one of the SUNCs standing by to assist.
Photo 22 shows a life raft alongside Adelaide and the SUNCs disembarking on to the ship using one of our ladders. We put a ladder in the water, we put a cargo net in the water, we put a Billy Pugh rescue strop in the water, and we had a Nowra strop in the water. So we were trying to bring people on board in four or five different ways.
Photo 23 shows the three life rafts and the RHIB alongside, and the rescue progressing in what I would still call a controlled manner, using the cargo net. The ship's preplanned mass embarkation plan was implemented. By 1841G, 223 unauthorised arrivals had been recovered from the water and had safely embarked on the forecastle of HMAS Adelaide where they were dried, clothed and fed. No injuries were sustained by Adelaide or, indeed, any foreign national personnel.
Photos 24 to 27 show the processing of the SUNCs on board. Photo 24 is of a small child being rescued from the water and being taken on board. We set up a processing line to deal with the situation. That is a terrible term, but there was a process to go through. You can see that is a young child. The photograph is of the famous A.B. Whittle carrying a baby on board.
Photo 25 shows a distressed Iraqi woman-I would estimate that she is middle-aged. She was absolutely exhausted from her ordeal and there she is being comforted by one of her crew. Of note, in the background are the sanitary hygiene arrangements that we built in situ at the time to deal with those people being on board. We built four small toilets. I am probably in contraven- tion of some maritime pollution regulation but I will accept some criticism for that.
Photo 26 shows another small child being processed.
CHAIR-I doubt it. As far out as you were in the Timor Sea, I do not think you would be in contravention.
Cmdr Banks-I stopped pumping poo over the side well clear of the 12-mile limit.
Photo 27 again shows more of the processing and it shows the ship's company in a very controlled and methodical manner going about that process of providing assistance to these people. In case I do not get asked later on, I probably want to emphasise here that the attitude of the ship's company changed significantly from the beginning of this operation to the situation we are now in. There were some comments early on about `Why are we doing this?', some derogatory comments about people from other countries and perhaps some comments which could be construed as being from the White Australia policy, in a general sense. We emphasised to the ship's company that these people were indeed human beings first and that, whilst we could not understand their plight, we had to treat them as refugees.
I was particularly proud of that shift in attitude of the ship's company when this situation developed into a humanitarian assistance task-of how they performed a miracle and they went about their business in a very humane and compassionate way and everyone chipped in and lent a helping hand, beyond their specialisation and their training and their category, and just got on with the job. It was some time later, when it had all stabilised, that we noted that nobody had whinged about the fact that they had not had a meal-this is the ship's company-that they had not had a break. They had just got on with it. We were well into darkness when people started to think, `Perhaps we ought to settle down to our own lives.' It was quite a shift in attitude, and one I am particularly proud of-the way people performed.
As I said, the performance of the ship's company of Adelaide to make this rescue happen was unparalleled and can best be described by the simple superlative `superb'. It was very much a validation of their training, their commitment and their professionalism. A number of the ship's company acted selflessly and several-seven, to be exact-entered the water to assist and, on occasion, help rescue the unauthorised arrivals. The photographs of A.B. Whittle and Leading Seaman Cook Barker are indicative of that effort, but many more of team Adelaide contributed than just those seen in the two much-publicised images. I have deliberately not presented the photos of A.B. Whittle and Leading Cook Barker tonight.
To my personal relief, the unauthorised arrivals' leaders confirmed there was no loss of life and, importantly, that no-one was missing. This also gave the first opportunity to accurately validate the number of unauthorised arrivals embarked in SIEV4 and then embarked in Adelaide and we went to great lengths to validate that number-223. It was with great trepidation that I signed off on that number. I think I did two full checks to make sure that number, 223, was correct.
Photos 28 to 29 show a significant change. Photo 28 shows a very happy and smiling family reunited and at peace on the forecastle of Adelaide. I believe that photo was taken on 9 October. As you can see, it is just a little crowded.
Photo 29 is taken at the same time, on 9 October. It is a 23-day-old infant wrapped in a towel. The towel was provided by us; the nappy was provided by us; the baby's bottle and the formula were provided by us. I think the lady holding the bottle is a SUNC who is wearing combat coveralls that we provided to all of them. That is the 23-day- old infant that I referred to in the ill-fated Channel 10 comments.
The unauthorised arrivals were accommodated on the forecastle deck, an exposed deck of HMAS Adelaide. A makeshift hoochie was rigged to provide shelter and, as I pointed out earlier, flush toilets-in a most liberal definition-were jury-rigged. All the unauthorised arrivals were issued with sleeping bags.
Photograph 30 is taken from the bridge on the morning of 9 October. It shows about a third of the SUNCs asleep; the other two-thirds are obscured by the angle and the makeshift awning over the launcher. As you can see, they are all (a) outdoors but (b) in sleeping bags and relatively comfortable under the circumstances.
Photograph 31 shows them several hours later settled down for the day, another day spent on board Adelaide-and indeed this may actually be 10 October-as we are preparing to enter Christmas Island to disembark them. CJTF 639 directed Adelaide to remain at sea overnight on 8 October and prepare to effect the transfer of the unauthorised arrivals at 0800G on Tuesday, 9 October to the authorities on Christmas Island. I was given authorised messages on that.
In response to a command of CJTF 639 request, I also produced a preliminary investigation report to the key players to address reasons why SIEV4 sank. This directive to disembark the unauthorised arrivals was deferred until 1200G and eventually rescinded until Wednesday, 10 October. In the interim, at 0930G, I gave an unauthorised telephone interview with a Channel 10 staff member that later drew attention to the rescue photographs. Shortly thereafter, and again on 10 and 11 October, I was instructed by Commander JTF 639 and also by the Maritime Commander Australia that I was not to communicate outside the military chain of command on this operation or on any related issues. This took the guise of telephone conversations, general statements and a number of signal messages. New and clear guidance on operational security and public affairs was formally issued by Commander JTF 639 on 12 and 14 October.
Australian Federal Police and Australian Customs Service officers from Christmas Island were embarked in the afternoon of 9 October, and preparations and processes to transfer the unauthorised arrivals were developed. On 10 October I was directed to stop releasing digital photographic material. In the early morning of Wednesday, 10 October, I was directed by CJTF 639 to liaise with the Administrator and the Australian Federal Police to discharge the unauthorised arrivals to Christmas Island, and Adelaide secured to the buoy at Flying Fish Cove at about 1400G on Wednesday, 10 October. By 1700G all 223 SUNCs had been transferred to the custody of the Australian Federal Police. Thereafter, Adelaide reconstituted the depleted life raft capacity and I prepared to return to Fleet Base West for our next tasking.
In response to questions raised by Adelaide, CJTF 639 and the Maritime Commander Australia about media misrepresentation, and at the direction of CJTF 639 and the Maritime Commander, I gathered testimony and passed a series of statements from the ship's company of HMAS Adelaide. On 10 October, I passed 15 statements by secure email. On 10 and 11 October I passed these statements to my bosses. These statements were made by people who had witnessed the man overboards or aspects of the man overboards on 7 October. This was done to put to rest false media claims that children had been thrown overboard.
I also produced a chronology of events, or narrative, for the interception and boarding phase, including the man overboard incidents. A chronological review of the EOTS video footage, a summary of the distress, tow and the loss at sea of SIEV4 and an initial investigation-a report `Why SIEV4 Sank'-were all provided. EOTS videotapes, with footage of the intercept, the boarding, the man overboard, the tow, the sinking and the rescue phases, were dispatched by express courier mail to the Maritime Commander Australia on the ship's return to Fleet Base West on Sunday, 14 October. A copy had earlier been transferred to the Australian Federal Police at Christmas Island, and I cannot recollect whether it was on 9 or 10 October.
In summary, by 10 October, and certainly by 11 October, it was clear to the Commanding Officer Adelaide, Commander JTF 639 and the Maritime Commander Australia that no children had been thrown overboard and that no children had been recovered from the water. In my mind, this would never have been an issue and had not been raised by me. No signal messages originating from HMAS Adelaide had ever referred to an incident involving children overboard. To my knowledge, the first written indication of children being put over the side was mentioned in a CJTF 639 general guidance message about future boardings of SIEVs late on 7 October. That statement in itself was accurate and I did not query it.
Throughout this operation, to my knowledge, the only contact outside the immediate military chain of command by me was with the Administrator, Christmas Island; the Harbourmaster, Christmas Island; a Channel 10 researcher or reporter, the Australian Federal Police detachment at Christmas Island; the Australian Customs Service detachment at Christmas Island; and a DIMA representative at Christmas Island.
The then Minister for Defence, Mr Reith, and the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, visited HMAS Adelaide on 24 October to farewell the ship's company as Adelaide prepared to deploy to the Gulf. Whilst Operation Relex and the Adelaide's role were discussed in very general terms, the details of the SIEV4 incident were not discussed. During the period November to January, whilst on station in the Arabian Gulf, I contributed information by email, DISCON message and occasionally by telephone to the numerous investigations, inquiries and general questions which had arisen from the SIEV4 incident.
Whilst I communicated with the Maritime Commander, Admiral Smith, routinely as my operational commander and my administrative authority; with Major General Powell and his staff in late November and early December; with Ms Bryant in December and January; with the Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Shackleton, on 8 November so 25 December only; with Air Commodore Ekin-Smyth in February 2002 only; and with the Chief of Defence Force, Admiral Barrie, on 17 January and 24 February 2002 to assist with these investigations, at no stage have I communicated with the office of the Minister for Defence nor have I been contacted by any political party or member of any political party or, indeed, any government official. With the exception of an authorised press conference on Wednesday, 13 March 2002, I have had no dealings with the media, tempting as that might have been on occasions. I have zealously adhered to Operation Relex operational security guidance issued by Commander JTF 639 and acknowledged formally by me on 13 October 2001.
In closing, I remain extremely proud of the contribution of the ship's company HMAS Adelaide to the safe and very effective interception and boarding phase but, most importantly, to the courageous rescue of 223 people from the Indian Ocean on 8 October. Their professionalism, spirit and compassion certainly came to the fore when asked to stand tall and do their duty when SIEV4 sank. That there was no loss of life or injury is testament to their training, their skill and their personal efforts as individuals and as team Adelaide. I am also proud of their sustained ability to concentrate on the task at hand and not be distracted when their name, their involvement and their reputation were, on many occasions, called into question by the media over the months since SIEV4. Throughout the 24-day Operation Relex patrol and the following 125 days on Operation Slipper deployment, they have done the Navy and Australia proud. That concludes my rather longwinded opening statement, but I did that in the context of allowing the facts, as I see them, to be presented for the first time to be aired publicly and, as my note says, I have a copy of the statement to offer to the committee.