Australian border protection vessels ‘breached Indonesian territorial sovereignty’, Scott Morrison

January 17, 2014

The Australian Government has apologised to Indonesia after admitting vessels operating under its border protection policy had “inadvertently” breached Indonesian territorial sovereignty “on several occasions”.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said he was told on Wednesday that “border protection command assets had in the conduct of maritime operations associated with Operation Sovereign Borders inadvertently entered Indonesian territorial waters on several occasions”.

Blaming the incursions on “positional errors”, he said they were “in breach of Australian Government policy”, and that Australia’s Chief of Navy, Admiral Griggs, had phoned his counterpart in Indonesia late yesterday to “provide an explanation”.

Mr Morrison said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop also “sought to speak to her Indonesian counterpart, foreign minister (Marty) Natalegawa last night, to advise him of this conversation and to offer an unqualified apology on behalf of the Australian Government”.

Mr Morrison said the Government took its “shared commitment with Indonesia to mutually respect the sovereignty of each nation very, very seriously”, and that it remained committed to avoiding violations of Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty when conducting operations under Operation Sovereign Borders.

“Furthermore we take any operational failure to comply with this policy extremely seriously as a government,” he said at a news conference this morning.

The admission comes as Indonesia says it is investigating reports Australia has begun turning asylum seeker boats back to Indonesian waters, a policy it opposes.

Indonesia has previously expressed its concern that Australia’s border protection policy would lead to a breach of its territorial sovereignty.

Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, the commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, said that while he was confident the breaches were unintentional, a review of operations would determine how many breaches occurred, when and why.

“We have never intended for our assets to operate or to enter the sovereign territory of another nation,” he said, adding that “our people on these vessels believe they were at all times outside Indonesian waters”.

He continued: “I’m sure all those involved in the conduct of Operation Sovereign Borders regret any affront to Indonesia these events may have caused. I believe our people were acting in good faith at all times.”

General Campbell said he had written to the CEO of the Australian Customs and Border Protection service, Michael Pezzullo, and the Chief of the Defence Force, General David Hurley, who have co-responsibility for border protection command, asking that they jointly review the breaches.

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Filed under Asylum Seekers in Indonesia, Australian Government and Opposition

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