Category Archives: Boat Tragedy

South-East Asian migrant crisis: Claims up to 200 dead with 14 people, including seven children, dead before boat turned around by navies

May 17, 2015 | ABC News

Rohingyas at Langsa, Aceh, showing their UNHCR refugee cards

PHOTO: Rohingyas including Muhammad Rafique (right) at Langsa, Aceh, show their UNHCR refugee cards.(ABC News: George Roberts)

Migrants and refugees who spent months at sea and found help in Indonesia’s Aceh province claim up to 200 people died on the journey with 14 people, including seven children, dying before the boat was turned around by both the Indonesian and Malaysian navies.

The 677 survivors were rescued by Indonesian fishermen and brought ashore last Thursday.

It has since emerged that Rohingyas and ethnic Bengalis from Bangladesh were involved in onboard violence that left seven people dead, as food and water supplies ran out.

The migrants claimed many passengers died by drowning either when they fell overboard or when the boat began to take on water.

It is impossible to verify the accuracy of some of the claims due to the language barriers.

There are differing accounts of the onboard violence with accusations being made by ethnic groups who admit to the clashes but blame each other for starting them.

Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.

A 21-year-old Rohingya man, Muhammad Rafique, who already has UN Refugee Status, said the Bengalis were the aggressors.

“Bengali … they said, you are Rohingya, they kill us, they kill us by the knife, by the hammer,” he said.

But Bengali Mohammad Abdur Rahim, 23, said it was the Rohingyas who started it.

“Myanmar people do not give us any food, any water, they are torturing [us] every day,” he said.

Boat turned away from Indonesian, Malaysian waters

The clashes seem to have occurred after the asylum seekers left the waters off Thailand and were then abandoned by the people smugglers and the ship’s captain.

According to the passengers:

  • Three to four boats left Bangladesh and Myanmar up to two months ago
  • Off the coast of Thailand, smugglers transferred them all to a larger boat
  • At least some of the smugglers, and the captain, abandoned ship
  • The passengers, without training or guidance, attempted to reach Malaysia
  • As food and water ran out, violent clashes broke out, leaving seven dead
  • Another seven children reportedly died during the voyage
  • Last week they reached Indonesian waters
  • The Indonesian Navy gave them some supplies but turned them towards Malaysia
  • The Malaysian Navy also gave them supplies and turned them away
  • Some claim 100-200 people drowned in the entire ordeal, but this can not be verified
  • Indonesian fishermen rescued 677 people from the boat on Thursday

From what those on board who can speak English say, three to four boats left from Bangladesh and Myanmar weeks ago.

Off the Thai coast, the smugglers then transferred them all to one bigger boat, and later abandoned them.

Last week they reached Indonesian waters but were rejected by the Indonesian navy.

Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman, Arrmanatha Nasir, conceded the navy had contact with a boat on Tuesday but said the people wanted to get to Malaysia so Indonesia gave them fuel, food and water.

Indonesia’s military spokesman Fuad Basya told the ABC the navy escorted them out of Indonesian waters.

Mr Abdur Rahim said the Indonesian navy took them to Malaysian waters.

Major General Basya told the ABC: “It’s the military’s responsibility to protect the country’s territory”.

He added the navy would keep turning asylum seeker boats away unless directed otherwise.

Once the boat reached Malaysian waters, the passengers met a similar response.

The navy again provided supplies but refused entry to Malaysian waters.

The boat, adrift at sea with no port of destination, began taking on water.

It was Acehnese fishermen who rescued the 677 Rohingya asylum seekers and Bangladeshis and brought them to Langsa.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he supported regional countries taking action to stop people smuggling boats by turning them around and stood by the Australian Government doing the same.

“I don’t apologise in any way for the action that Australia has taken to preserve safety at sea by turning boats around where necessary and if other countries choose to do that, frankly, that is almost certainly absolutely necessary.”

Rescued asylum seeker receives medical treatment in Aceh

PHOTO: Rescued migrants receive medical treatment upon their arrival in the fishing town of Kuala Langsa in Aceh province.(AFP: Chaideer Mahyuddin)

‘They were on the sea for four months, no food, no bedding’

Many of those on board were dehydrated and malnourished. A number are still taking fluids through intravenous drips.

Dr Iqbal Foriza, who is co-ordinating medical provision at the makeshift refugee camp, said 25 people were admitted to hospital with their bodies having gone into shock from the ordeal.

“The worst is heavy shock. They were on the sea for four months, no food, no clean food, no bedding, that made the people dehydrated, and caused trauma,” Dr Iqbal said.

On a military camp bed last night, a Bangladeshi woman fanned her three-year-old daughter to keep away mosquitoes, which can be deadly in Indonesia.

The tiny girl was still hooked up to a drip, but Dr Foriza said she was being monitored every three hours.

The ordeal had some people rethinking their plans to get to Malaysia.

“We [want to] go back to Bangladesh immediately. Please help,” Mr Abdur Rahim said.

Muhammad Rafique, a Rohingya, still wanted to get to Australia via Malaysia, with the help of people smugglers.

“First time I will go Malaysia, I will [collect] some money, pay the broker. After I go to Australia to study,” he said.

When the ABC asked him if he knew Australia did not accept people who came by boat he did not understand.

Young rescued Rohingya asylum seeker in the dome tent

PHOTO: Many of those on board were dehydrated and malnourished and a number are still taking fluids through intravenous drips. (ABC News: George Roberts)

Australia urged to help ease crisis by taking more refugees

Australia’s former ambassador to Thailand and Indonesia John McCarthy said Australia could not just be a witness to the crisis and needed to significantly increase its refugee intake.

“It is a major gesture,” he said.

“We are a country that can afford to take refugees and it has to be bipartisan. If this is not bipartisan we’re not going to get it up.

“The only prospect I can see of Australia playing a constructive role is by saying that we will actually increase our intake of refugees above the 12,000-odd we take currently to a much larger number.”

Malaysia said its foreign minister would meet with his Indonesian and Thai counterparts to discuss the crisis.

Foreign minister Anifah Aman was to meet Indonesia’s Retno Marsudi in the Malaysian city of Kota Kinabalu on Monday, a government official said.

That would be followed by separate talks between Mr Anifah and Thai foreign minister Tanasak Patimapragorn later in the week, “most probably on Wednesday”.



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Anniversary of SIEV X sinking a time for reflection

October 19, 2014 | the age

Courageous: Amal Basry was haunted by the sinking of the SIEV X, and the deaths of 353 of her fellow asylum seekers.Courageous: Amal Basry was haunted by the sinking of the SIEV X, and the deaths of 353 of her fellow asylum seekers. Photo: Steve Thomas

The notebook is blue, the spine reinforced with tape. The covers are fraying at the edges. The pages list every person assisted by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre since June 2001, the month it was opened. The notebook is full. It contains 7579 names.

Pick any name at random and Kon Karapanagiotidis,  chief executive and founder of the centre, knows the story. A second notebook is now being filled. In the 13 years since the centre opened,  it has helped almost 10,000 people.

Name number 1259 is Amal Basry. She was one of 45 survivors of a capsized fishing boat that became known as SIEV X. Three hundred and fifty-three asylum seekers drowned when the boat sank en route to Christmas Island on October 19, 2001. Amal was rescued after clinging to a corpse for more than 20 hours.

She told the tale of the sinking many times, with  audiences ranging from one listener to a Melbourne town hall packed with more than 2000. She would get out of her sick bed to tell it.  She spoke of the “children like little birds floating on the water”. She was condemned to bear witness. In a cruel irony Amal died of cancer in 2006. Her tale is a reminder of the courage it takes to risk the seas in search of a new life free of oppression.

It is also a reminder of the inhumane treatment by the Abbott government of asylum seekers who continue to undertake the journey. The boats may have stopped, but those who have made it here in recent years are living in hell.

There were many tears shed in Federal Parliament over lives lost at sea, but no tears for those who remain incarcerated in brutal offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus islands. Nor for those imprisoned on Christmas Island and in centres on mainland Australia. No tears for the thousands in community detention and on various forms of bridging visa. No acknowledgement that indefinite detention is a recipe for depression, suicide attempts and insanity. Countless studies have reaffirmed this.

Asylum seekers may no longer be dying at sea, but they are suffering on land. And some are dying on land: Manus Island detainee Reza Barati, beaten to death, and fellow detainee Hamid Kahazaei, a victim of medical neglect. And out on a bridging visa, in community detention, Leo Semmanpillai, who died of self-immolation. In all, more than 30,000  asylum seekers remain in limbo, stripped of hope. Denied a future.

With Coalition government plans to reintroduce temporary protection visas, this uncertainty is set to continue. Even babies born to asylum seekers in Australia are to be deemed unauthorised maritime arrivals. Consider this: of the 45 SIEV X survivors, those who were resettled in other countries immediately received permanent residency. It was understood they had suffered enough. In contrast, the seven assigned to Australia were placed on five-year temporary protection visas.

Amal Basry would wander the streets at night, unable to stop the recurring nightmares of her ill-fated boat journey and of the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein that claimed the lives of family members. As she told me many times, her state of panic was intensified by her temporary status. She had become a living ghost.

In stark contrast to the actions of the Federal government, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre provided Amal refuge. She received trauma counselling, medical assistance, material aid and legal representation. Above all, her story was acknowledged, her courage recognised.

The centre represents the other side of the equation. Refugees are welcomed. They are helped back on their feet in ways far too numerous to list in a column. Volunteers worked round the clock earlier this year to  relocate the centre in the abandoned old City Mission in Nicholson Street, Footscray, turning it into a vibrant centre of refuge.

The centre’s services are expanding, with a shift towards empowering asylum seekers through innovative employment schemes and businesses. Its many donors, volunteers and staff are on the frontline in maintaining Australia as a vibrant, non-racist, multicultural nation. Yet, as Kon points out, many staff are in a state of grief and anger at government policies, and the despair they are inflicting. At the moment it’s the worse it has ever been for asylum seekers, he says.

October 19 is a day to reflect on their plight. And on the fact that despite talk of orderly processes, the Coalition government has cut its refugee intake by  more than 30 per cent, at a time when the need is greater than ever. Australia accepts just 0.3 per cent of the world’s refugees, making us 67th relative to our population, and 74th relative to wealth.

The date should be designated boat people day, a time to share stories and acknowledge that apart from indigenous people, we are all, give or take a few generations, a nation of immigrants.  The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is a house of stories. Even the walls speak. They are adorned with larger-than-life photos of asylum seekers’ faces, accompanied by accounts of their journeys.

In mid-2005 Amal was in hospital receiving treatment for cancer. The nurses heard her screaming. When they ran to her bed, she was clutching her mobile. She had just been informed of receiving permanent residency. She was ecstatic. “I am a free woman in a free society,” she kept repeating. She was finally at home, her brave journey completed.

Meanwhile, the names in Kon’s second notebook are rapidly mounting.

Arnold Zable is a Melbourne writer. He tells the story of Amal Basry in his most recent book, Violin Lessons


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Indonesia sentences Pakistani people smuggler to seven years

January 28, 2013

JAKARTA: An Indonesian court sentenced a Pakistani man to seven years in jail Tuesday for attempting to smuggle asylum seekers to Australia on a rickety boat that sank, killing about 90 people.

Javaid Mahmood, 55, was the second person found guilty by the East Jakarta District Court in connection with the overloaded fishing boat that capsized on its way to Christmas Island in June 2012. Another 110 people on the boat were rescued.

A panel of three judges concluded that Mahmood, also known as Billu, organised the voyage and conspired with an international syndicate that smuggled asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia.

The judges said each asylum seeker paid the people smugglers up to $5,150 to get to Australia.

Last year, the court sentenced an Afghan man, Dawood Amiri, 20, to six years in prison and ordered him to pay $79,000. His interrogation led police to arrest Billu almost a year after the deadly voyage.

Prosecutors, who had requested a 10-year sentence, said the defendant knew that the boat was overloaded but did nothing to stop it from sailing. He was among the survivors and had organised three previous trips to Australia.

The judges also ordered him to pay $66,200 or face an additional six months in prison.

The number of asylum seekers from Iran, Afghanistan, Myanmar and elsewhere reaching Australia in Indonesian fishing boats has soared in recent years, and tougher steps taken by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott to block them have become an irritant in relations with Indonesia.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has criticised an Australia policy of turning back boats with asylum seekers as a violation of Indonesian sovereignty.

Tuesday’s verdict came days after Australia apologised for incidents in which its border patrol boats entered Indonesian waters without permission, which had prompted Indonesia to demand that Australia suspend such operations against boats carrying asylum seekers.

Indonesia has long been a transit point for people fleeing war-ravaged countries on their way to Australia.


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Customs can’t be sure of ultimate fate of asylum boat that vanished in June

December 26, 2013

Bodies and debris were never recovered so authorities will never know for certain where they came from, internal review says.

The coast of Christmas Island, where the 46 refugees arrived between March 2009 and December 2010. The UN has said their indefinite detention was 'inhumane'.
The coast of Christmas Island: the report is one of three internal reviews into fatal sinkings which were released late last Friday. Photograph: John Pryke/AAP

The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service admits it can’t be sure of the ultimate fate of an asylum seeker vessel it was searching for in June because bodies and debris seen floating in the water off Christmas Island were never recovered, and authorities will never know for certain where they came from, an internal review into the sinking has revealed.

The review into the tragedy, which occurred in June of this year, sought to assess the actions and procedures taken by customs officers and related search and rescue agencies after a boat carrying an estimated 55 people sank, with no known survivors.

The report is one of three internal reviews into fatal asylum seeker boat sinkings which were released late last Friday afternoon.

An entire chapter of the report discusses what happened to the boat – referred to as COI 0502 – and whether it was the source of the debris and bodies.

“The review found no formal identification of the debris and bodies observed as part of SAR 2013/3821 was made by BPC or RCC,” reads one of its findings. “Therefore, the review is unable to make any definitive statement as to the origin of the debris or bodies, including the ultimate fate of COI 0502.”

Because there were no survivors, no bodies recovered, nor any distinguishable wreckage retrieved, conclusive statements about the cause of the sinking were “not possible”.

“While the review notes the possible link between the debris and COI 0502, at the time of writing this report there has been no information to indicate that COI 0502 or some other specific vessel was the source of the debris and bodies.”

A spokesman for the service told Guardian Australia the internal review was “a comprehensive report that assessed and cross-referenced all operational logs, chronologies and key information to determine what occurred during the incident. The review is a considered representation of all operational information captured during the incident.”

The asylum seeker vessel was spotted by an RAAF patrol aircraft on the afternoon of 5 June, and was not reported to be in distress, despite it being stationary and with people waving from the deck. Two customs vessels, Glenelg and Warramunga, were tasked to other operations – transferring asylum seekers to Christmas Island and destroying a previously intercepted boat, SIEV 733, respectively.

Approximately an hour later the Warramunga was directed to intercept COI 0502. The Warramunga “expedited” the destruction of the SIEV 733 but did not leave for about another five hours. By the time it reached the last known position of COI 0502 there was no sight of it or its passengers.

When news of the sinking broke, the time taken between sighting the vessel and attempting to intercept it was criticised by refugee advocates. But the review found that all customs and SAR agencies acted appropriately, including when the search for the missing vessel was escalated.

The decision not to retrieve bodies from the water was also heavily criticised at the time, as disrespectful to the deceased and their loved ones left behind.

The review found that in one instance, a body found floating near debris could not be recovered due to a lack of light and aerial support. In other mentions of bodies discovered, no reason is given, although some were spotted by the Dash 8 customs aircraft only.

Among its findings relating to the non-recovery of the bodies, the review noted a rationale of “posturing of resources for ongoing activities to prevent further loss of life”.

“It also included the practical challenges involved with recovery activities based upon the likelihood of the deceased still being afloat, the condition of the deceased, and the potential impact on mission capability.”

The report said a number of bodies were spotted when searching for survivors was still a priority, and on further consideration the likelihood the bodies were in “an advanced state of decomposition” was also taken into account.

By the time survivor searches were over, no bodies could be found.

The office of the current minister for immigration and border protection, Scott Morrison, did not respond to requests for comment.


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Asylum seeker deaths: Authorities took two days before launching search for doomed boat

December 22, 2013 | the Sydney Morning Herald

It took two days after an asylum seeker boat was seen near Christmas Island in June for Australia’s maritime authority to mount a co-ordinated search and rescue effort for the boat.

But by the time authorities found the boat it was debris, having sunk. It is believed the 60 people on board, including women and children, died. Australian authorities did not recover the bodies.

Data interactive - Asylum seeker drownings since 1990Drownings reach a grim milestone: Explore data on asylum seeker deaths at sea.

An internal review by the Customs and Border Protection Service review found authorities had ”demonstrated an appropriate and timely approach” to locating the stricken boat.

With no distress call issued from the boat and two naval vessels in the region engaged with other asylum seeker boats, Border Protection Command instead monitored the situation for two days before upgrading its response.

The report comes 18 months after Australia’s search and rescue agency was criticised in a classified government report for not being proactive enough in helping an asylum seeker boat that had made more than 16 calls for help over two days before eventually capsizing, killing 104 men.

The latest report, released late on Friday, was one of three internal reviews into Australia’s responses to three sinkings that killed at least 73 people in June and July.

It said Australian authorities responsible for searching for the boat were in different buildings, and used different communication systems, creating ”communication challenges” and increasing the risk of miscommunication. It recommended Customs and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) work better together, and ”consider a more integrated approach”. To help this happen, BPC should consider introducing a ”modern automated case management system” to monitor separate incidents simultaneously with other agencies. A BPC spokeswoman said this recommendation would be implemented, but could not say how or when this would be done.

The report said an RAAF plane first reported seeing the asylum seeker boat at 5.43pm on June 5, just 28 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island.

As they flew above, crew members took photographs of asylum seekers waving their arms above their heads on the desperately overcrowded wooden fishing boat. Only three were clearly wearing life jackets. It was the last time they were seen alive. Three days later, HMAS Warramunga found nine bodies floating about 60 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island.

The fate of the others on board is not known, although the report cautioned that it could not confirm the bodies were from the boat photographed earlier because the bodies were not recovered and identified.

Before the rescue effort was launched officially, Warramunga, an RAAF plane and merchant vessels had tried to find the boat.

By 8.30am on Friday, June 7, a co-ordinated search and rescue was launched and by that afternoon bodies and debris had been discovered in two areas 10 nautical miles apart. The search for survivors was called off on Sunday night.

Australia’s border protection responsibility covers 11 million square nautical miles, which is equivalent to about 11 per cent of the Earth’s oceans.

The review found BPC and AMSA struggled with ”communication challenges”, with one supervisor at the Australian Maritime Security Operations Centre having to contend with seven different operations systems to find and distribute information about the vessel.


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Three dead as asylum seeker boat founders off Java

December 10, 2013

Indonesian drowning deaths

Rescuers push the disabled boat to shore at Ciawi Beach in West Java Province.

At least three people have drowned when a fishing boat carrying 30 asylum seekers heading for Australia capsized off the West Java Province after its engine failed.

Reuters Newsagency says one of those who died was a two-year-old child.

It says the passengers were mostly Iranian and ethnic Rohingya who said they were stranded at sea for nearly three hours off Ciawi Beach before being saved by local authorities and fishermen.

One of survivors, Jamil, said that the group was making its way to Australia.

He said the group bought the boat from locals.

“They give us a boat and they give us a bad engine and the engine failed. They are not sorry for us,” he said in broken Bahasa.

About 400 boats carrying asylum seekers have made their way to Australia over the past year and about 45,000 asylum seekers have arrived since late 2007, when the former Labour government relaxed border policies, eventually tightening them again in the face of a voter backlash.

The issue has been a priority for the new Coalition conservative government. Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has acknowledged that there has been a spike in asylum seeker boat arrivals since late November.

Four boats, carrying a total of 162 asylum seekers and six crew, have been intercepted in the past 10 days.

Also last week, 27 asylum seekers arrived undetected on Christmas Island.

Australia’s Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island is a frequent destination for asylum seekers, who travel by often crowded boats from Indonesia, with the help of people-smugglers.




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Asylum seekers rescued off Java coast

November 13, 2103

Asylum seekers being off loaded from the Oceanic Protector and transported to Christmas Island after it was involved in a stand off with the Indonesian government earlier this week. Another boat is now in trouble off the Indonesian coast.

Asylum seekers being off loaded from the Oceanic Protector after it was involved in a stand off with the Indonesian government earlier this week. Another boat is now in trouble off the Indonesian coast. Photo: Supplied

All passengers have been safely evacuated from an asylum seeker vessel carrying 51 people, which foundered 3km off the southern coast of Java.

Rahman, a spokesman from Indonesian search and rescue agency Basarnas, said the early hours of Thursday AEDT that all the people, who came from Sudan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, had been removed from the wooden fishing vessel about nine hours after they had first signalled their distress.

There were no fatalities.

It’s understood the boat, which had been bound for Christmas Island, had lost the ability to steer, but still had power.

Australian immigration minister Scott Morrison has not commented on reports of a boat containing Somali asylum seekers reported to have arrived in Darwin.

However, an asylum seeker source based in Indonesia said there had been a boat which was organised by Iranian people smuggler Abu Razul.

With AAP


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