May 18, 2013
Stranded at sea : Asylum seekers Farhad, Benyamin, Maryam and Narges in Indonesia after their rescue. Photo: Michael Bachelard
Two more would-be asylum seekers have died at sea trying to get to Australia, while their 46 shipmates survived a boat journey that comprised equal parts tragedy and luck.
The survivors, among them five children under six, endured 10 days without power, food or fresh water before they were spotted by an Australian Maritime Safety Authority plane and rescued by a cargo ship.
They risked their life because of us, looking for the help.
But two days before the rescue, two men, Sajad and Meisam, had decided to paddle away to look for help.
They constructed a raft from empty fuel containers and spare wood, and used a length of timber from the boat as a paddle.
They were never seen again.
”They had family in Iran,” Benyamin Saber, one of the survivors, said as his wife, Maryam, sobbed. ”They are family to my friends and the family has called already and asked if they are OK, but we don’t know. They risked their life because of us, looking for the help.”
The 46 who survived – 29 men, 12 women and five children, all Iranians – now face an uncertain future in Indonesia’s overcrowded immigration detention system.
Mr Saber said the group paid $US5000 ($5120) each to an Indonesian people smuggler he knew as Reza, and set off from Java’s eastern capital Surabaya about April 27. But 30 hours later, the engine on the wooden fishing boat stopped, rendering the pumps useless.
There was no navigation or communication system and no life jackets. Those on the boat had to bail out water by hand. After two more days the crew abandoned ship, swimming to other fishing boats in the area, which refused to help the Iranians. ”We waved our hands and they ignored us … We don’t go on ships in Iran. Nobody had any idea [what to do].
”We were full of distress, pressure … didn’t know anything about the ship, the sea …
”There was no sleep, just sailing, and the women screaming and the children crying. Believe me, we experienced a harmful condition,” Mr Saber said.
They boiled salt water and captured the steam to drink but there was not enough, and the noodles packed by the crew ran out in the first two days.
”Most of us were crying, most have the sunburn, vomiting and low glucose, most ill.”
On the 10th day, May 7, they saw an Australian surveillance aircraft, and about two hours later the cargo ship Aeolos arrived.
Dan Posadas, the chief officer in charge of the rescue on the Aeolos, said the refugees’ wooden boat was ”submerged dangerously because of flooding water”.
The crew plucked them off in a 200-litre plastic drum, ”heaving up one by one – the safest way because of the sea condition, and because most of them were tired, weak, dizzy, nervous,” Mr Posadas said.
The maritime safety authority said the group was picked up 110 nautical miles north of Christmas Island.
However, the Aeolos was sailing to Indonesia, so that is where the group went. They are now in a hotel in the port of Merak under lock and key all day, with only brief respite while their rooms are cleaned.
One of the women, Narges, said they had fled Iran to find a place ”with human rights”.
”They never let us as women speak or be free,” she said. ”There are no rights for women … every place when women want to speak and defend herself, immediately they say you shouldn’t; let your husband speak about it.”
Australia may not want them, but their awful story affected one man at least.
Mr Posadas, the man in charge of rescuing them, signed off one communication with Fairfax Media saying: ”I wish all your efforts and your goodness in the near future to read in the newspaper [that] these people reach their dreams come true.”