Heartfelt message from SIEVX Survivor on the 11th Anniversary of the Sinking
by Sadeq Al Abodei
19 October 2012
I write to you with my heart in pain
It was an international tragedy that I lived through. Even now I am still
watching the people around me die, women men and children, as if they
were looking for a hand to extend to them from heaven to save them
from drowning. But as hope died in their hearts, they died. The ocean was their only grave. We could not bury them so we have no
place where we can visit to remember them.
I am one of the survivors from the ship which sank when trying to go to Australia in 2001 and later renamed SIEVX. Today is 19 October 2012, the 11th anniversary of the sinking of the ship . Therefore I send my condolences and compassion for all the dead children, women and men.
I lost my wife in the accident. She died after despairing of rescue for the more than 350 people on board, most who were women and children.
I survived with my daughter who was less than two years old and the only small child to survive the sinking. She escaped miraculously - I held her on my shoulders for 18 hours, from Friday afternoon to Saturday morning. Throughout the night she cried. We struggled to stay alive, through severe thirst and hunger and loss of consciousness. I would start to fall asleep and then suddenly lift my head so as to be beyond drowning. Every time this happened I thought my little daughter had died and I feared I would die too as I was tired and exhausted with no hope of survival.
God alone was our messenger and saved us. We were a total of 13 people on a small piece of floating timber after the boat sank but during the night more than five died because they had lost their families. The salt water and the waves killed many and long after midnight we lost all hope of survival. We could barely resist, we were almost dead until rescued by fishermen.
We continue to suffer. The tragedy was too big. We have seen the deaths of children and women parading between the waves. Our lives have been severely narrowed by what happened to us. It is hard to work, we are always tired. Our income is not enough to fill our needs and to this day we suffer from debt that we had to take on in order to try and reach Australia, the country we dreamed in which our children would live and learn and complete their studies.
Through your website I appeal to all charities to save us and help us. We hoped to meet you in Australia.
Through this website I appeal to the Prime Minister, the government, political and charitable figures to help us so that we can do better in our lives after suffering so severely in the sinking accident.
We hope to visit Australia which was the dream for our children.
I am now held in Finland with my daughter, Kausar.
Australia's Shameful Response to a Boat in Distress
by Marg Hutton
27 June 2012
It is a terrible irony that in the week of the tenth anniversary of the creation of this website, questions are being raised concerning Australian responsibility for the mass drowning of scores of asylum seekers that occurred en route to Christmas Island last week.
Have our policies in respect of asylum seeker vessels reverted to the 'Don't get suckered into a SOLAS' imperative of the Howard era?
Thanks to the work of the ABC's Matt Brown, it is possible to read online key faxes that our Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) sent to BASARNAS last week prior to the sinking. A transcript of Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare's Press Conference last Friday also provides more information about Australia's tardy response to this vessel in distress.
These documents show that Australia first learnt that a boat was 'experiencing difficulties' from phone calls direct from the boat to the RCC around 10pm AEST on Tuesday evening. A few hours later in the early hours of Wednesday morning, there was another call requesting assistance 'as the vessel had suffered hull damage... and was taking on water'. It reportedly had 204 passengers on board and was 38 NM south of Indonesia heading for Christmas Island. RCC responded by advising the vessel to return to Indonesia, faxed the Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency BASARNAS concerning a 'vessel in distress' requesting it take coordination of the incident. It is still not clear if BASARNAS ever acceded to this request.
The stricken vessel continued to limp its way slowly toward Christmas Island at two or three knots per hour. It is claimed that a routine Border Protection surveillance flight over the boat on Wednesay afternoon indicated 'no visual sign of distress.'
We don't know how many calls in total were made from this stricken vessel to the RCC throughout its ill-fated journey - we do know that the vessel repeatedly called for help throughout Wednesday and that the 'last call' appears to have taken place around 8.20pm AEST that evening. Jason Clare claimed that 'on Wednesday evening, Border Protection Command vessels at Christmas Island were prepared to respond if assistance was requested'. Yet inexplicably there was no response by Australian vessels to these calls for help for nearly another seventeen hours.
At 7.30am AEST on Thursday morning RCC received further information from an undisclosed source that the vessel was 'approximately 110nm NNW of Christmas Island, may be taking on water with persons onboard fearful for their safety.' This new information was credible enough that it roused the RCC to act, but shamefully not for another five hours.
At 12.41pm AEST RCC again contacted BASARNAS, presumably in another attempt to bat away responsibility for the incident to the Indonesians. About twenty minutes after this a BPC vessel departed Christmas Island 'tasked to locate' the vessel. Two hours later the capsized boat was detected about 110nm NW from Christmas Island. AMSA sent out a broadcast to shipping requesting assistance and also offered assistance to BASARNAS - which still had no assets responding to the incident. It was not until 10.23pm AEST, after many of the passengers aboard the sunken vessel had been rescued, that RCC Australia contacted BASARNAS and formally accepted coordination of the Search and Rescue.
This is not the first time under Labor that there have been questions raised about Australia's reluctance to go to the rescue of asylum seeker vessels in distress. Natalie O'Brien uncovered the story of the lost boat from 2009 that went missing with over 100 people on board; it took four hours for information about this boat to be passed to AMSA. We will never know if lives could have been saved in 2009 if information about this vessel had been received in a more timely manner. However, in regard to the latest sinking - there is no doubt that if RCC had responded earlier to the distress calls from this vessel 90 lives could have been saved.
In 2001 John Howard directed that passengers on an asylum seeker vessel were not to be rescued until their boat had sunk. We saw this dangerous and heartless policy in play in the case of the 'Children Overboard' boat, SIEV 4. This vessel had sent up a 'Mayday' flag calling for help. It was subsequently taken under tow by the Adelaide and towed for 24 hours till it foundered. It was not until all 223 people were fighting for their lives in the water that the Adelaide was permitted to go to the rescue.
The way Australia responded to the boat that eventually capsized on 21 June appears to be significantly different to how we have responded to other SIEVs in distress in recent times.
On 22 November last year, for example, former Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O'Connor issued a media release saying that a vessel carrying 116 passengers had been detected the previous evening after a search coordinated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) following a phone call to police. Crucially O'Connor noted:
'After locating and making contact with the vessel, AMSA determined that while it was not in any immediate danger, the number of people on board and the small amount of safety equipment was of concern and made arrangements for HMAS Maitland to monitor the vessel overnight en route to Christmas Island.'
If AMSA had acted with this level of concern last Wednesday, 90 people would still be alive...
The Fantasy of Wishful Sinking ~ Suvendrini Perera, New Matilda, 16 Jul 2012 ~ "The focus on a punitive banning of all boat arrivals indicates that it is rather the wishful sinking and wishful drowning of asylum seekers that underwrites the refugee policies of our two main parties."