Body-recovery equipment 'will spare sailors'

Cameron Stewart
August 10, 2013 12:00AM

THE navy has ordered specialist body-recovery equipment for its patrol boats so crews can more easily collect drowned asylum-seekers, in a sign that it does not expect an early end to the spate of deaths at sea.

The move reflects the continued failure of asylum-seeker policy, which has seen more than 1100 men, women and children drown and 50,000 asylum-seekers arrive since the Rudd government relaxed border protection in 2008.

Faced with the prospect of ongoing deaths at sea, the navy recently despatched a new so-called Brindle Body Recovery System to Christmas Island and a Defence spokesman said a further 11 were being "rapidly procured".

They will complement 12 recently acquired smaller Sea Scoopa systems that are being used to both rescue asylum-seekers in the water and to retrieve bodies.

The navy hopes the new equipment will help reduce the trauma for its sailors, who have sometimes had to manhandle the bodies of drowned asylum-seekers, including women and children.

Each of the seven Armidale-class patrol boats that intercept people-smuggling boats as part of Operation Resolute will have specialist equipment to collect drowned asylum-seekers. Customs and Border Protection are trialling the same equipment.

The Brindle Body Recovery System uses a rescue sling attached to a forensic recovery bag, which lets sailors recover a body without touching it. The smaller Sea Scoopa system uses a net and a detachable stretcher to rescue people from the water and to recover bodies.

They are being used on the rigid-hull inflatable boats launched from the patrol boats. "Both systems are used to recover deceased personnel while the Sea Scoopa is also used to recover injured or incapacitated survivors," a Defence spokesman said.

"One Brindle Body Recovery System has been delivered and is located on the Christmas Island response vessel (and) a further 11 are being rapidly procured in order to complement the Sea Scoopa systems."

Last month, two asylum-seeker boats capsized off Christmas Island, with four people drowning on one boat and nine on the other, including 10-week-old Abul Fazal Jafari. The picture of Abul's tiny coffin being loaded on to a plane at Christmas Island has become one of the defining images of the asylum-seeker crisis.

The job of rescuing asylum-seekers and retrieving the bodies of those who drown has pushed the navy's patrol boat fleet to breaking point. One insider said: "Just try to picture pulling body parts out of the ocean, because that's what happens to bodies in the water for a few days, they pull apart at the seams. Unless something changes with our border protection policy it's going to be a PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) free-for-all."

The chief of navy, Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs, has recently added a minehunter and an Anzac frigate to border-protection duties to help ease the strain.

The Australian recently revealed crews were spending up to 25 per cent too long at sea, with the navy unable to rest them properly because of the relentless spate of boat arrivals. Asylum-seeker boats have arrived this year at a rate 2 1/2 times higher than the same period last year.

Some insiders have spoken of a "growing and burning anger" among sailors on the frontline as they struggle to respond to asylum-seeker emergencies, but Vice-Admiral Griggs has denied that this attitude is prevalent.


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