Monthly Archives: August 2012

Ships ignored survivors’ pleas

August 31, 2012

Asylum seekers who were plucked from the sea as their friends drowned around them say five ships passed them during their two days in the ocean but refused their pleas to stop to help.

Muhammad Zahir, 25, told reporters on the dock at the Indonesian port of Merak that, as 150 refugees floated in the ocean, one boat came close enough for the crew to speak to them, only to say they would not pick them up.

The refugees, all Hazaras from Afghanistan and Pakistan, told traumatic stories of watching relatives die in the ocean after their flimsy vessel sank and the Indonesian crew swam away.

Survivors from the asylum boat at Merak port.Survivors from the asylum boat at Merak port. Photo: Krisna Widi Aria

Mr Zahir said his brother and his sister, Hameeda, had both died, along with perhaps 10 other women and children.

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“My sister, she was 29 years old. I was about to help her. But inside the water without any facilities, how could we help her? I was like, ‘No, please don’t go’.”

“People are gone, my brother, my sister gone, so how can we go back to Indonesia? Somebody help us please,” he said, crying.

One of the survivors at Merak port.One of the survivors at Merak port. Photo: Krisna Widi Aria

A 10-year-old boy, Omed, sat on deck looking dazed. Other refugees said he had made the trip with his father, cousin and uncle, all of whom had died in the water. His mother had stayed in Afghanistan.

The refugees confirmed that the boat had been arranged by people smuggler Haji Ghulam, a Pakistani also known as Hassan, who is based in Indonesia. They said they had only ever heard his voice on the phone.

He had charged them $US5500 per person for safe passage to Australia.

Ten-year-old Omed lost his father, uncle and cousin on the asylum-seeker boat.Ten-year-old Omed lost his father, uncle and cousin on the asylum-seeker boat. Photo: Michael Bachelard

“He told us, and lying and saying everything is clear, ‘You guys aren’t going to face a problem,” Mr Zahir said.

Another rescued asylum seeker, Reza, said he had worked as a translator and in providing security for international troops in Afghanistan, but that he and his family had been harassed by the Taliban, and they had been forced to flee the country.

“They threatened our families and had to move them to Pakistan and we had no security, we couldn’t travel,” he said.

About 55 asylum seekers were rescued from the ocean, about 47 on the first Indonesian search and rescue boat, and the rest arrived on a second boat operated by Indonesian police.

On that boat is one refugee who died. It is not clear if this happened after he or she was pulled from the water.

After landing, the refugees were taken to the Feri Merak hotel in the town of Merak to be processed by the Indonesian immigration department. It is not clear what will happen next, but it is likely they will be sent to a detention centre.

“We are not happy to go,” Mr Zahir said. “We are ready to kill ourselves to jump in the water. We’re not going in Indonesian immigration.”

He said to live in detention you needed money, and they had none because they had sold everything to pay the people smugglers to come to Australia.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard told reporters in Canberra today that Indonesia had decided to take the asylum seekers back to Merak.

She also said that she believed that Indonesian authorities “did the best that they could” in the search and rescue operation.

with Judith Ireland

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Search continues for survivors from sunken asylum boat as another ship is intercepted

August 31, 2012

AUSTRALIA’S biggest month for asylum seeker arrivals has recorded the 35th new boat as the number of people intercepted eclipses 2000 for the first time.

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Authorities today said navy patrol boat ACV Hervey Bay intercepted a vessel north of Cocos (Keeling) Islands yesterday evening.

“Initial indications suggest there were 31 people on board,” Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said ACV Hervey Bay said.

“Border Protection Command has transferred these people to Australian Government authorities on Cocos (Keeling) Islands.”

However, the government has been unable to guarantee all new arrivals since the switch to offshore processing on August 13 would be transferred to Nauru.

Mr Clare said the people would be transferred to Christmas Island, where they will undergo initial security, health and identity checks and their reasons for travel will be established.

“People arriving by boat without a visa after 13 August 2012 run the risk of transfer to a regional processing country,” he said.

The latest boat arrival takes to about 580 the number of suspected asylum seekers who have arrived in Australian waters in the past week.

It was the eighth boat stopped by Australian authorities since last Friday.

Meanwhile Australian ships and aircraft will this morning join the search for survivors from an asylum boat that sunk off Indonesia.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority says the Indonesian search and rescue authority, BASARNAS, will continue its rescue operation west of Java at about 9.30am today.

Merchant vessels Frontier Coronet, Voyager Explorer and Pelafigue Tide and two aircraft from Perth will join today’s search and rescue operation.

More than 90 people are still missing, but 54 have been rescued. The ABC is reporting that a merchant vessel yesterday recovered a body in the water near the sunken vessel.

The 54 survivors, including three with injuries, are set to be transferred to Merak in Indonesia, a port city on the west coast of Java, for medical attention.

With the search for more survivors set to resume this morning, authorities say a crucial rescue window may already have passed.

Most of the 54 survivors rescued yesterday spent the night aboard the Australian navy vessel HMAS Maitland.

Six men were plucked from the sea early yesterday by merchant vessel APL Bahrain.

Another 16 were spotted from the air in the afternoon and were later picked up by HMAS Maitland, and another 23 were recovered by merchant vessels in the area. The circumstances under which another ten people were found are not yet known.

All were on a boat carrying up to 150 people on its way from Indonesia to Australia.

Two distress signals were received from the boat early on Wednesday morning off Java’s western-most tip, but a search failed to find them.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said the initial call of distress from the boat said the boat was carrying women and children.

Mr Clare lashed out at the people smugglers this morning saying the smugglers were running a “closing down sale” by tempting refugee hopefuls with the offer of a ride to Australia before offshore processing rules kick in – and warned their opportunistic grab for asylum seekers’ money could continue.

“They’re telling people they’re selling them a ticket to Australia,” he said. “What they’re really doing is selling them a ticket to Nauru or a ticket to the bottom of the sea”.

Mr Clare said chances of finding survivors were much slimmer after the first 48 hours after the boat sank.

He said the passing of legislation for offshore processing had fueled the people smugglers to act quickly.

“I think the legislation (to set up offshore processing) only encourages people smugglers to try and get people onto boats as quickly as they can because they know setting up offshore processing in Nauru, in Manus Island…will shut down their business model,” he said.

“More than 300 people have died in the last three months and it appears more people have died in the last 24 hours.”

Mr Clare said he expected people smugglers to keep trying to sell asylum seekers tickets to Australia, saying some asylum seekers had already paid half their ticket.

“My message to them, is don’t get on the boat,” he said.

 – with Anna Caldwell, Steve Scott and AAP

Source: http://www.heraldsun.com.au/ipad/another-16-asylum-seekers-found-where-boat-sank-en-route-to-australia/story-fnbzs1v0-1226462287620

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No transfer to Australia for survivors of asylum-seeker tragedy

August 31, 2012

ASYLUM-seekers pulled from the ocean after their boat sank have been taken to an Indonesian port, despite previous survivors of such tragedies being transferred to Australia for processing.

Asylum boat locator map

The move comes as a massive search continues for up to 95 remaining passengers from the boat carrying 150 people, which is believed to have sunk in the Sunda Strait, between Java and Sumatra, after issuing a distress call early on Wednesday.

So far 54 asylum-seekers have been rescued, some of whom would have been in the water for up to 30 hours.

At least some are Afghans and they include two women and a young boy. One body was also taken to Merak.

Authorities hold grave fears for the rest and hopes faded today that anyone else would be found alive.

In an apparent sign the Gillard government is toughening its stance on border protection, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the 54 survivors picked up by the Australian navy and merchant ships would be handed to Indonesian authorities and taken to the port of Merak, in western Java.

This will include asylum-seekers picked up by the HMAS Maitland.

“All vessels will transfer the survivors to Indonesian rescue vessels early this morning,” an AMSA spokeswoman said.

“All survivors, including three with injuries, will be taken to Merak, Indonesia for medical attention.”

The decision to take survivors to Indonesia is in stark contrast to previous moves by the government to bring survivors of boat sinkings to Australia, and follows the toughening of border protection policy by reopening detention centres on Nauru and on Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea.

In June a boat carrying around 200 asylum-seekers capsized 120 nautical miles south of Java, with its 110 survivors taken to Christmas Island.

Another 130 asylum-seekers from a separate boat sinking in which four people died were also transferred to Christmas Island in June.

Last month, all 162 people aboard a vessel in distress in Indonesian waters south of Java were brought to Australia for processing.

This story was originally published here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/no-transfer-to-australia-for-survivors-of-asylum-seeker-tragedy/story-fn9hm1gu-1226462285086

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More than 50 asylum seekers found alive

August 31, 2012

Authorities have found 55 survivors from an asylum-seeker boat which sank en route to Australia, but there are fears many more have drowned.

The search for more survivors was scaled back as night fell on Thursday as hopes continued to fade for many of the estimated 150 asylum seekers who had been aboard the wooden boat when it sank in the Sunda Strait off the coast of Indonesia.

Three of those rescued so far had serious injuries but were in a stable condition. They were receiving treatment aboard the Australian naval vessel HMAS Maitland.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said the search for more survivors would resume at first light on Friday.

While the majority of those rescued were aboard HMAS Maitland, there were also plans on Thursday evening to try to transfer some of the survivors to the port of Merak in western Java.

An Indonesian police patrol boat was scheduled to rendezvous with the merchant vessel, the APL Bahrain, which had plucked six men from the water in the early hours of Thursday morning.

It is understood, however, that the men were reluctant to be returned to Indonesia.

Almost 300 asylum seekers have already died along the same route, between Java and Christmas Island, since December.

The latest incident will see that toll rise even further.

As the search continued, questions were also being raised about the initial response to the unfolding disaster.

The boat had been on its way to Christmas Island when its pump failed, prompting a distress call to AMSA at about 1.30am local time (1630 AEST) on Wednesday.

However, a search coordinated by the Indonesian search-and-rescue agency, BASARNAS, initially failed to locate the sinking boat or any survivors.

That search was then abandoned.

It was not until early Thursday morning that the first survivors were found after AMSA provided the Indonesians with an updated likely position for the boat based on drift modelling.

The Bahrain, which had responded to an earlier broadcast to shipping, was then tasked to attend the broader search area.

It appears the arrival of the Bahrain and other merchant vessels, almost 24 hours after the boat sank, may have been too late for many of the asylum seekers.

Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare on Thursday defended the search effort.

“Don’t underestimate how hard it is to find people in the middle of the sea,” Mr Clare said.

“It’s very, very hard and authorities have been working this issue since the time they got the original information yesterday morning.”

Mr Clare also warned that people smugglers were rushing to get people on boats before detention centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island are up and running.

“People smugglers are running a closing-down sale,” he said.

The comments come ahead of a visit by Mr Clare to Jakarta next week, when the issue of search and rescue is set to be discussed.

Plans to boost maritime co-operation between Australia and Indonesia, aimed at stemming the flow of asylum-seeker boats to Christmas Island, are also expected to feature on the agenda.

Source: http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/8524446/merchant-ships-search-for-survivors

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More survivors found in asylum boat search

August 30, 2012

Bulk carrier APL Bahrain has lifted survivors from the dark sea while (inset) Australian navy patrol vessel HMAS Maitland races to help.Bulk carrier APL Bahrain has lifted survivors from the sea while (inset) Australian navy patrol vessel HMAS Maitland races to help. Photo: MarineTraffic.com/Royal Australian Navy

Forty-five people have been rescued from the area where an asylum seeker boat sank on its way to Australia.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said at 1930 (AEST) on Thursday 45 survivors had been recovered, with three seriously injured survivors being treated on board the naval vessel HMAS Maitland.

Six men were plucked from the sea early on Thursday by the merchant vessel, the APL Bahrain.

Another 16 were spotted from the air on Thursday afternoon and were later picked up by HMAS Maitland, and another 23 were recovered by merchant vessels in the area.

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An Indonesian search and rescue vessel, as well as a police patrol boat, were to meet with the APL Bahrain at about 4.30pm local time (1930 AEST) to transfer its survivors to the port of Merak in western Java.

They will be taken to Merak, Indonesia, for medical attention.

All were on a boat carrying up to 150 people on its way from Indonesia to Australia.

Two distress signals were received from the boat early on Wednesday morning off Java’s western-most tip but a search failed to find them.

However, early on Thursday morning, a merchant vessel acting on information from AMSA found six survivors 45 nautical miles from Indonesia, sparking a major search operation.

AMSA said the search and rescue, being conducted in coordination with Indonesian search and rescue agency BASARNAS, would continue through the night.

HMAS Maitland and four merchant vessels are on the scene looking for survivors.

AAP

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Indonesians waited six hours after mayday call

August 30, 2012

Basarnas control room

Almost six hours passed after the Indonesian search and rescue agency was alerted to a distress call from a sinking asylum seeker boat before they dispatched vessels to search for it.

The boat, with about 150 people on board, sank in the sea south-west of Java early on Wednesday morning.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said this afternoon there were confirmed reports of survivors in the search area, about 40 nautical miles north-west of Java.

HMAS Maitland, which was the nearest vessel, has recovered 16 people, the AMSA said. There are three merchant vessels on scene which are assisting in the search for survivors.

An Indonesian search vessel, Rescue Boat 201, was due at the scene and has a medical crew on board

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Six people were recovered alive earlier today by merchant vessel APL Bahrain.

A spokesman for the Indonesian agency, Basarnas, told this website that they had received word of the boat in distress at 1.31am Jakarta time on Wednesday (4.31am AEST).

But Indonesia does not have the capacity to mount a search at night, so it was not until 7.15am that a helicopter and two boats were sent to the area.

“We never conduct operations at night-time because we don’t have the facilities and because bureaucratically speaking it’s complicated,” said Basarnas spokesman Gagah Prakoso.

“The helicopters are not equipped with devices designed for night-time flying. And in order to dispatch boats we normally must get a permit [from the harbour] but the harbour office doesn’t do it at night-time.

“Our operations are always at daytime because doing it at night can be dangerous for the rescuers.”

In the first communication, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority advised that the boat was eight nautical miles from the Java coast.

Mr Prakoso said that by the time Basarnas crews — two ships and a helicopter — made it to the area, they found nothing.

“We searched into quite a large area, I think. We searched within a radius of 30 kilometres from the point eight nautical miles south-west of Java, which AMSA told us yesterday,” Mr Prakoso said.

It was not until the early hours of today — more than 24 hours after the original distress signal — that a merchant vessel, APL Bahrain, found six survivors in the water. They were found 42 nautical miles from the coast — about 34 nautical miles from the location AMSA had originally advised.

“[Yesterday] we covered the area where the boat was found today but it wasn’t there at all. There was zero sighting of any boat yesterday,” Mr Prakoso said.

The most likely reason was that sea currents and the wind had brought the boat from a long way off to the point, he said.

Australia’s Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare, defended the initial response by Indonesian authorities.

He confirmed that six people were rescued by a cargo ship this morning but said grave fears were held for the remainder of the 150 people reportedly on the sunken vessel. Mr Clare said he expected survivors to be returned to Indonesia.

“We have a window of opportunity. People can survive in the sea for up to 36, maybe 48 hours, and that’s why so many vessels are heading to the scene,” he said.

The latest incident comes after the deaths of about 300 asylum seekers since December along the same route between Java and Christmas Island.

Mr Clare, along with Australian ministers for defence, Stephen Smith, and transport, Anthony Albanese, will visit Jakarta next week for high-level talks about defence and search-and-rescue coordination.

The Indonesians may push at those meetings for Australia to help with physical resources — rescue boats and planes.

Apart from lacking night-search capability, Basarnas also has limited ability to dispatch boats in heavy seas, and the Indonesian navy is reluctant to send warships on rescue missions.

Basarnas has told this website in the past that it plans to buy a 60-metre ocean-going catamaran from Singapore. However, it will not be operational until early next year.

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‘Survivors found’ from asylum boat feared sunk off Indonesia

August 30, 2012

asylum boat

A boat carrying 150 suspected asylum seekers is reportedly sinking.

PEOPLE smugglers are selling desperate refugees a “ticket to the bottom of the sea” as they rush to push asylum seekers onto boats before offshore processing begins, an angry government minister said today.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare lashed out at the people smugglers this morning, as news emerged that many asylum seekers are feared to have died in a new boat tragedy off Indonesia.

Mr Clare said the smugglers are running a “closing down sale” by tempting refugee hopefuls with the offer of a ride to Australia offshore processing rules kick in – and warned their opportunistic grab for asylum seekers’ money could continue.

“They’re telling people they’re selling them a ticket to Australia,” he said. “What they’re really doing is selling them a ticket to Nauru or a ticket to the bottom of the sea”.

He spoke as efforts continued to find survivors after a wooden vessel went down off Indonesia. While six people have been found alive, there are fears it could have been carrying many more – possibly up to 150, according to a mystery distress signal received yesterday. That call for help sparked a search but no vessel was found.

Mr Clare said the passing of legislation for offshore processing had fuelled the people smugglers to act quickly.

“I think the legislation (to set up offshore processing) only encourages people smugglers to try and get people onto boats as quickly as they can because they know setting up offshore processing in Nauru, in Manus Island…will shut down their business model,” he said.

“More than 300 people have died in the last three months and it appears more people have died in the last 24 hours.”

Mr Clare said he expected people smugglers to keep trying to sell asylum seekers tickets to Australia, saying some asylum seekers had already paid half their ticket.

“My message to them, is don’t get on the boat,” he said.

He said the Australian government had “grave fears for many, many more” asylum seekers after six were plucked from the sea.

“Six people have survived, potentially dozens and dozens of people haven’t,” he said.

Mr Clare said the goal was to find survivors, and he believed there was still a “window of opportunity” in the rescue attempt.

He said the initial call of distress from the boat said the boat was carrying women and children.

The six survivors are all believed to be male.

Mr Clare said after the Indonesian search authority called the search and rescue effort off last night, Australian authorities received drift modelling and asked a border protection command Dash 8 to search the area.

The Dash 8 searched one area, but was unable to search further because of fuel and weather restrictions.

Australian authorities then tasked the merchant vessel APL Bahrain to assist, which then saw signs of people in the water early this morning.

Indonesia is coordinating the search.

When asked if Australia was disappointed with Indonesia’s efforts, Mr Clare said: “Let’s just remember how difficult this task is. This is a big stretch of water. Search and rescue is very hard.

“It is very hard to find people who are in distress in a little wooden boat…anywhere between Christmas Island and the coast of Indonesia.”

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority received a distress call from the boat off the coast of Indonesia yesterday morning and broadcast a shipping alert for the wooden vessel.

The Authority says that around  3.30am AEST today, the Master of the APL Bahrain reported they had sighted people in the water in the search area. The boat had suffered engine failure and was taking on water.

The APL Bahrain is attempting to recover survivors.

A second merchant vessel, the bulk carrier Gwendolin, which had also been searching overnight, was moving to the area where survivors have been sighted to assist in the search and recovery operation.

Two Indonesian search vessels, Rescue Boat 201 and Maritime Police Vessel KP Enggano, also are heading to the area. They are expected to arrive by 3pm today.

The Australian navy vessel, HMAS Maitland is expected to arrive at 4pm today. A Defence aircraft departed Learmonth and a Customs aircraft departed Christmas Island today.

Two Australian search planes were also due to arrive on the scene later this morning, AMSA spokeswoman Jo Meahan said.

Mr Clare said information about what had happened would be sought from the survivors.

“It’s my expectation the survivors will be taken to Indonesia,” he said.

Their condition was not yet known, but they had been in the water for many hours.

Ms Gillard and parliamentary secretary for Pacific Islands Affairs Richard Marles signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the establishment of a regional processing centre in Nauru.

The MOU was signed in Rarotonga earlier by Mr Marles, the Nauru Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Kieren Keke.

“The MOU is the next step in implementing the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers and an important development in setting up the regional processing centre for irregular maritime arrivals in Nauru,” Ms Gillard said.

“The signing today formalises this arrangement between Australia and Nauru.”

It was not known last night if anyone had died.

The latest drama came as two more asylum vessels were intercepted by Australian authorities, carrying a total of 83 people.

A boat with 58 passengers was found northeast of Christmas Island on Tuesday night, while a second vessel holding 25 people was met north-west of Christmas Island yesterday morning.

At the Pacific Islands Forum, Ms Gillard said she was “on the same page” as Nauru and PNG on the length of time asylum seekers would be held in processing centres.

Nauru’s Foreign Minister Kieren Keke and PNG’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill have both said they want asylum seekers to be processed and resettled in other countries – including Australia – quickly if they are found to be refugees.

Ms Gillard insisted this request was not at odds with her vow that asylum seekers who arrive by boat will not get any advantage over those who use legitimate channels – a move that could see those classed as refugees being detained offshore for a number of years.

“If they are a genuine refugee then they will have to wait the same amount of time for a resettlement opportunity as they would have waited if they hadn’t got on the boat,” she has said previously.

Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer today said the government had to take responsibility for the tragedies after dismantling the Pacific solution and triggering the wave of arrivals.

“It has lead to the tragedies we see today,” she said.

Ms O’Dwyer said tougher measures were needed, including the full suite of Howard government-era measures.

“Not just offshore processing but temporary protection visas and, where it is a safe to do so, turn boats around,” she added.

Labor MP Andrew Leigh said the government’s decision to reopen Nauru and Manus Island was designed to try and prevent this sort of tragedy.

He explained the government was helping out despite the boat’s location so close to Indonesia because it was about “being a good neighbour”.

“These drownings are just one of the most horrendous things you can see in politics,” he said.

He said it appeared asylum seekers were still happy to take the risk, despite the threat of offshore detention.

“Some people have paid a people smuggler before August 13,” they feel they paid their money they may as well as go ahead with the other money

“The other thing is people smugglers continuing to deceive people.”

Meanwhile, it was revealed on Lateline last night that Attorney General Nicola Roxon ordered the prosecutions against 132 Indonesian boat crew, charged with aggravated people smuggling, be discontinued.

Crew members on asylum seeker boats will now not be charged with the offence – which carries a mandatory five years jail – unless there is evidence they helped plan the journey or deaths occurred at sea. The decision will not affect 270 boat crew currently in jail after being convicted of the offence.

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