Jason Clare - Press Conference - Sydney

Saturday, 13 July 2013 00:00

13 July 2013


JASON CLARE: This morning I have been briefed by the head of Border Protection Command Rear Admiral David Johnson. I can now give you the latest information that we have. Can I stress that this information is the initial advice provided to me, and that information is subject to change.

Last night our officers have rescued 88 people, and they've recovered the body of a little baby boy. The advice to me is that 97 people, the initial advice to me is that there were 97 people on board, and a search and rescue effort is happening right now. That search and rescue is happening 87 nautical miles north of Christmas Island.

It involves two of our Navy patrol boats, HMAS Bathurst and HMAS Albany, as well as a merchant vessel named Garden City River, as well as the Royal Australian Air Force's P-3 Orion aircraft and two chartered AMSA aircraft. The Customs Vessel Triton that rescued the 88 people last night has now transferred those people to Christmas Island. Let me take you through the chronology of events that have been provided to me.

At approximately 11:15am Australian Eastern Standard Time yesterday, the Australian Federal Police advised the Australian Maritime Safety Authority that they had received a call from a man in Melbourne, who said that he'd received a call on his mobile phone from a person on a vessel, saying that the vessel was in trouble, and at that time provided a partial GPS position for the vessel. At approximately 12:30pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, the Rescue Coordination Centre requested the assistance of Border Protection Command to locate the vessel.

At approximately 2:30pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, Border Protection Command advised that they believe the vessel was approximately 108 nautical miles north of Christmas Island. At approximately 3pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, the Rescue Coordination Centre released a broadcast to shipping in the area, seeking assistance. At approximately 4:30pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, the Australian Customs vessel Triton was directed to proceed north to be ready to assist if necessary.

At approximately 4:45pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, the Rescue Coordination Centre advised Border Protection Command that the Federal Police had received further calls from a person on the vessel, and information from the caller suggested that the vessel was disabled, that it was taking on water, and that there were over 90 people on board the vessel. At that time, the Rescue Coordination Centre requested the release of the Triton. At approximately 4:50pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, Triton was directed to proceed to the location of the vessel seeking assistance.

At approximately 6pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, the merchant vessel Garden City River also headed towards the boat seeking assistance. At approximately 7pm Australian Eastern Standard Time yesterday, the Rescue Coordination Centre advised Border Protection Command that they had again been in contact with the vessel. An updated position placed the vessel at approximately 87 nautical miles north of Christmas Island.

At approximately 10pm Australian Eastern Standard Time last night the Triton arrived on the scene, and sent a boarding party to the vessel. When they arrived, the vessel was stationary. At approximately 10:30pm last night Australian Eastern Standard Time, the Triton reported that a wave had broken over the vessel, and that it had taken on more water and began to sink. The merchant vessel had also, I'm advised, arrived on the scene at this time.

At approximately 10:45pm last night Australian Eastern Standard Time the Triton reported that they had two tenders and a life raft in the water, and were working to recover people from the water. At approximately 10:50pm last night Australian Eastern Standard Time the Rescue Coordination Centre requested further assistance, and HMAS Albany and HMAS Bathurst were tasked to respond. Bathurst arrived on the scene at about 1:20am Australian Eastern Standard Time this morning Australian Eastern Standard Time, and Albany arrived on the scene at 4am this morning Australian Eastern Standard Time.

At approximately 2:20am this morning Australian Eastern Standard Time, the Triton reported that it had rescued 88 people and recovered the body of a little baby boy. Triton has now returned to Christmas Island, and as I said Albany and Bathurst are on the scene. The search for survivors continues, and that search will continue throughout the day. That is the latest information that's been provided to me this morning by Border Protection Command, and I'm very happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Do you know how old the baby boy was?

JASON CLARE: The initial advice to me this morning is the little baby boy was under one year of age.

QUESTION: And where was the boat from, Indonesia or..?

JASON CLARE: The advice to me this morning is that we expect the boat was from Indonesia, and that the passengers on the boat are from Iran, from Afghanistan, and from Sri Lanka.

QUESTION: Can you tell me why it took four hours for the Triton to be directed to go to their rescue?

JASON CLARE: I think if I go back to the chronology that I've provided you with, it indicates that the Triton was directed to pre-position, to be ready to head north if required, and that shortly after being given the instruction by the Rescue Coordination Centre, I think at around about 4:45pm Australian Eastern Standard Time yesterday, five minutes after that at approximately 4:50pm Australian Eastern Standard Time, BPC directed Triton to proceed north.

QUESTION: You said AMSA have put out an alert at 12:30.

JASON CLARE: That's correct.

QUESTION: So that alert didn't include Customs vessels. And then at 2:30 BPC is still talking about it. At 3pm Rescue Coordination Centre is releasing broadcast to all shipping. So we obviously realised there's a serious situation, but still, it's another hour and a half before Triton is directed to head north. It seems a long time, doesn't it?

JASON CLARE: All good questions, and I wouldn't, and I don't think it's appropriate for me today, to pre-empt or pre-judge the work of our Rescue Coordination Centre or Border Protection Command. These are the sorts of things that will be looked at as part of the standard internal review of all matters when a death at sea occurs.

In these circumstances, there is always a review conducted by Border Protection Command. I've spoken to the Chief Executive Officer of Customs this morning, and initiated that. In these circumstances, it is also open to the West Australian coroner to conduct an independent inquiry of this search and rescue, and that is a decision for the WA coroner to make, having a look at all of the information available to him, including the information I've provided you with now.

QUESTION: But we're still waiting, though, for the last review on the capsize on 21 June last year. You haven't released that yet.

JASON CLARE: No. In relation to that matter, that's now the subject of a coronial inquiry by the WA coroner. He's held the first hearings in relation to that matter, and my understanding is that further hearings will be held later this month. I've made the point that when the coroner releases his report I will ensure that the Government releases the recommendations of that review as well. In addition to that, I have also made sure that the work that Customs and Border Protection and other agencies have done in relation to that matter have been made available to the WA coroner.

QUESTION: It seems to be, it's a pattern of events isn't it, when we have a safety of life at sea issue. And I'm not questioning Customs work; I think they do a fantastic job. But there is always this four-hour delay between getting intelligence, and actually our boats being told to go and help them. It doesn't seem to have improved over the past couple of years.

JASON CLARE: Again, you're asking me to second-guess the work of our Border Protection agencies. The way to do this is through a proper examination of the work that was done in relation to requests for help. That is the way it has always been done, that is the way it should be done here. It shouldn't be a Minister second-guessing the actions of our Border Protection Command on a day like this, when people are potentially still alive in the water, and a search and rescue is underway.

QUESTION: With the shooting in your electorate this morning, in fact one of your posters actually copped one of the bullets, I was just wondering what your thoughts are on the recent spate of gun violence in Sydney, and your role in trying to control the influence of weapons.

JASON CLARE: I've seen that story. I haven't had a chance to look at it in any great detail, I've been focused on this matter. But as you would understand, the people of Western Sydney are legitimately very worried about the shootings that are going on in our local community, and they want the governments of Australia, the Federal Government and the state governments, to work together to make our streets a safer place. The work that I've been doing, working with the New South Wales Government, is very important in that regard.

Only last week, we agreed as state and federal governments across the nation, to set up an Australian ballistics identification network, so that where bullet casings are found at crime scenes right across the country, they can be linked to crimes whether they occur in the streets of Western Sydney or right across Australia.

That's a system that I am funding, that the Federal Government is funding, it will provide equipment to police across the country and help to solve more crimes. They're the sort of things that we need to do working together. People in my local area aren't interested in politicians fighting about this; they're worried about safety on their streets and they want us to work together to make our streets safer.

QUESTION: And so what specifically, where are we at in terms of stopping those guns reaching the streets?

JASON CLARE: There are around about a quarter of a million guns here right now, on the streets of Sydney, in the hands of criminals. There are a lot of illegal guns out there and they are easy for criminals to get.

A lot of those weapons are weapons that weren't handed in after the Port Arthur massacre, or weapons that are stolen. Thousands of weapons are stolen from legitimate owners every year. That makes it easy for criminals to get them.

We need to make it easier for police to get them off the street. That's why one of the things that I have suggested is giving our police random powers to search serious criminals for firearms.

Often, people know who the criminals are that have these weapons, but they're too afraid to tell police because they are afraid of retribution. Now one of the ways we can tackle that is give police more powers to go and search the homes, the houses, the cars of people that they know are serious firearms offenders and search them at any time.

Laws like this exist in South Australia and I think they need to exist right around the country. The other thing we can do is make it easier for people to anonymously dob in people that they believe are shooting at their homes or are shooting up their streets. And recently there has been a campaign to do that, and that's been very successful, but there is more that can be done in that area.

QUESTION: Can I ask who you're going to give the powers to? Will it be the state police, or the federal police?

JASON CLARE: State police predominantly, because this is an area that state police often work. This is an ongoing discussion that I have been having with state police ministers.

We had this discussion in June last year, we had it again when police ministers met in Darwin two weeks ago. South Australia made a presentation and they outlined the way their firearm prohibition orders work, and how successful they have been in targeting serious firearm offenders, particularly members of outlaw motorcycle gangs.

They made the recommendation to states that they should consider implementing similar powers, right across the country. I support that, I've made the case for this on a number of occasions, and I hope that my state colleagues will see that this is another tool that will help police to get the guns off our streets.

QUESTION: Minister Clare just one more thing, is there any further details on the people who are actually still missing as a result of the sinking?

JASON CLARE: No, no further details other than the information I have just provided you with. Okay, thanks very much.


Back to sievx.com