Bodies of drowned asylum seekers left in the water

June 10, 2013
Judith Ireland

The bodies of asylum seekers who drowned when their boat sank late last week are still in the water as Border Protection Command vessels and planes are being used in other operations.

Customs and Border Protection said that no attempts would be made to recover the bodies of the deceased on Monday.

This comes after a three-day search for survivors was called off late on Sunday night with not a single person recovered from the water.

An estimated 55 people are assumed to have died after an asylum seeker boat sank off Christmas Island late last week. Thirteen bodies were spotted in the water on Saturday. Advertisement

On Sunday, Border Protection Command’s Rear Admiral David Johnston said that the search and rescue effort had not tried to recover bodies over the weekend as the focus was on looking for survivors.

‘‘The recovery of bodies is complex and time consuming. So all the surface vessels are continuing because it remains possible that there are survivors in the water, that’s where their focus is,’’ he told reporters.

On Monday a Customs spokeswoman said that the Border Protection Command vessels and aircraft were currently involved ‘‘in a range of high priority operations in waters near Christmas Island and elsewhere’’.

‘‘Our priority in those operations remains the protection of life responding to the vessels which may require assistance and preventing any further loss of life,’’ she said.

‘‘When those operations have been concluded, and there is no further risk to life, BPC will endeavour to recover whenever possible any bodies which may be relocated.’’

The spokeswoman said the likelihood of any successful recovery would ‘‘diminish over time’’.

Questions have been raised about the time taken to mount the rescue operation, as an air force plane first identified the boat when it was only 28 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island at about 5.45pm Sydney time on Wednesday.

The boat was carrying about 55 people on deck, mostly men but also a small number of women and children. Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said it was ’’too early to tell’’ where the group was coming from.

When the boat was spotted, it was stationary but did not seem in distress, he said. It is understood Australian authorities did not receive a distress call from the vessel.

HMAS Warramunga arrived in the area at 1.30am on Thursday, but could not find the boat. After searches on Thursday, a plane spotted the submerged hull about 3pm on Friday. When the Warramunga arrived at the location, it could see only pieces of wood and life-jackets.

’’This is another terrible tragedy, another terrible reminder of how dangerous these journeys are,’’ Mr Clare said on Sunday.

Mr Clare said the search would be subject to a full review by Customs and Border Protection, ’’as is standard practice’’. But the Greens believe there should be a more thorough inquiry, beyond the standard internal review. Former ambassador Tony Kevin is calling for a coronial inquiry, arguing that Border Protection Command (BPC) took too long to send a boat to find the vessel.

’’I contend that if they’d taken prompt interception or assistance action by a surface vessel on Wednesday afternoon, those 55 people would still be alive,’’ he said.

Mr Kevin questioned the fact the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) did not send out a PAN-PAN (Potential Assistance Needed) call until 10am on Friday.

According to an AMSA spokeswoman: ’’Authorities were working co-operatively with the best information available.’’

Refugee advocate Ian Rintoul also said he wanted an investigation into why an immediate search was not mounted.

‘‘I think we do need, you know, a full inquiry and complete transparency about what information AMSA had, when it had that information, and why, if there was an indication or even a question that there could be a boat in problem, why an immediate search wasn’t mounted at that time,’’ he told ABC Radio.

Mr Rintoul said there had been ‘‘too many’’ instances where there had been issues about the slowness or unwillingness of AMSA to respond appropriately.

‘‘If there’s an issue of resources then that needs to be public,’’ he said.

Indonesia’s ambassador to Australia, Nadjib Riphat Kesoema, recently ruled out collaboration to send asylum seekers back to Indonesia. But opposition border protection spokesman Michael Keenan said Australia did not need a formal arrangement with its neighbour to turn boats back.

BPC Commander Rear Admiral David Johnston said there would be risks involved with the Coalition’s tow-back plans.

HMAS Warramunga located a boat on Sunday about 110 nautical miles north of Christmas Island they believed made a distress call the day before. The boat has about 70 people on board, who are now being transferred to Christmas Island.

with AAP


Back to