SIEV-X

In October, an asylum seeker vessel sank on its way to Australia - 353 people drowned. Known as SIEV-X - an acronym for `Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X` - the boat and its fate have been the subject of a Senate inquiry. It is trying to determine who knew what about SIEV-X and whether Australia could have rescued the survivors. For months the nation`s most senior military commanders and public servants have tried to answer those questions. Tonight, one former senior Defence official tells Dateline that if the operation had been properly handled, lives may have been saved. In this story, reporter Geoff Parish retraces key parts of the doomed boat`s journey.

REPORTER: Geoff Parish


In a small room in Melbourne`s outer suburbs, Amal Hassan Basri is writing the true story of SIEV-X.

AMAL HASSAN BASRI, SURVIVOR (Translation): First of all, this is a painful incident, a disaster that deserves to be written down by someone. People bought death in seeking freedom. That`s why I want to write down this story. About the innocent women and children who died. Their dream was to have a decent life in Australia.

She and her son Rani are two of only 43 survivors from the doomed voyage that killed 353 people.

AMAL HASSAN BASRI (Translation): It was like the doors of Hell opening onto us, that moment when everyone was screaming. In just a few moments I saw many bodies floating. I knew them, children from the hotel.

JOHN HOWARD, PM: We have a proud record of welcoming people from 140 different nations, but we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.

SIEV-X sank last October, in the middle of a dramatic election campaign dominated by `Tampa`, false claims of children overboard and the issue of border protection.

TONY KEVIN, FORMER DIPLOMAT: My name is Tony Kevin and I live in Canberra.

After the election, a Senate inquiry was established to examine the children overboard allegations and the tragedy of SIEV-X may have been forgotten but for this man, retired diplomat Tony Kevin. In May, he changed the focus of the inquiry with disturbing allegations about the tragedy of SIEV-X. He said Australia must have known about the boat and should have done something to save those who perished.

TONY KEVIN: Something went seriously wrong in the information chain in Australia`s border protection system during October 2001 that had terrible human life consequences.

His testimony has created months of controversy, claim, counterclaim, and denial at the highest levels.

JOHN HOWARD, PM: The navy did everything that could reasonably be expected and that the continued attempt to implicate them in some way to imply that they are responsible for this tragic, tragic incident, I think it`s quite appalling.

TONY KEVIN: There`s been a succession of disgraceful cover-ups in official testimony. You might almost say there`s been a dance of the four veils here. How many more veils are there going to be before we get to the truth?

There are many mysteries about SIEV-X and its journey. For example, the Federal Government still can`t or won`t say where it departed from in Indonesia. But based on survivor interviews, Dateline has retraced parts of the fateful journey. After travelling through Java, Amal Hassan Basri and the other SIEV-X passengers boarded a ferry for Sumatra. Australia has a network of paid informers in Indonesia, who track the movement of people smugglers and their human cargo. It`s part of what`s called a "disruption policy". The ultimate aim, if at all possible, is to prevent the boat leaving. But on this journey, there was no disruption. Sources say the Australian Federal Police, based in Indonesia, were tracking another people-smuggler boat about to depart. The SIEV-X passengers were being led to their ultimate death undetected. After landing in Sumatra, they were taken away from the port and away from prying eyes. During this period, Amal remembers the promises of the notorious people smuggler Abu Quessy.

AMAL HASSAN BASRI (Translation): So I asked him, something that I won`t forget, "Is the boat you`ll take us in metal or timber?" He said "Metal". I asked him if it was small or big. He said "My boat is big, made up of three storeys." He said it had all the safety facilities like life jackets, and food so that if we were lost at sea, food would be available. And satellite, radio and things like that... He lied to us.

Early on Thursday morning, October 18 last year, the asylum seekers were bussed to this beach at a small village called Chanti, a short distance from the ferry terminal. It`s a pretty spot, but it was here that the tragedy of SIEV-X began to unfold. Dateline has learned that the smuggler had planned for two boats, but only one arrived here. This may explain why 400 people were crammed on to SIEV-X. Abu Quessy`s armed henchmen, and soldiers he`d bribed, were involved in the illegal operation. Faris Kha Dem, another survivor, and his wife and daughter were told what would happen if they didn`t board the ill-fated vessel.

FARIS KHA DEM, SURVIVOR (Translation): If you refuse to board, you`ll be killed and dumped.

With 400 people on a dilapidated boat, the survivors talk of being able to touch the water with their hands. SIEV-X set sail just before dawn. A small group bribed their way off the boat soon after. Then the grossly overloaded vessel chugged out past these islands, heading for international waters. The journey was rough, and after a day and night at sea, SIEV-X`s water pump broke down. The boat filled quickly and a terrible tragedy unfolded. At approximately 3:10pm on Friday October 19, a large wave turned it over. SIEV-X apparently sank without issuing a distress call.

AMAL HASSAN BASRI (Translation): Children and women were all around me dying, or not breathing, or screaming. I heard them screaming, dying around me. My son was straight ahead of me. He said "Mum, forgive me. Forgive me if I`ve done anything wrong by you." I said "God and my heart are content with you." He said "Come closer for me to kiss you one last time." At that moment a dead woman floated by so I held onto her and went to my son. I held onto her clothes to be able to move and went towards my son so he could kiss me.

FARIS KHA DEM (Translation): I remember maybe ten or more children and women who couldn`t swim were holding onto me and every time I`d raise my head to breathe they`d drag me for me to save the, but make me sink. I saw my wife drowning and went to save her, but I couldn`t. We were in the ocean, not caught in a fire that you could just put out...I could only pull her up to let her breathe. I went to save her, I heard my daughter shouting behind me "Dad, I`m suffocating? I`ll die here?" My wife said "Leave me and go and save Zahra." I left my wife, God rest her soul, to go to Zahra. I found the waves tossing her around. But she died, she didn`t last. She shouted "Dad!" once but couldn`t another time, water went into her mouth and she suffocated. I went back to the same spot to find my wife dead.

It seems no-one knows for sure where SIEV-X sank, but it`s now a crucial issue in the debate. Did it go down in Indonesian or international waters, where our navy frigates and spy planes are scouring the north-west approaches to Australia. They`re part of Operation Relex, the Government`s tough policy to turn back suspected illegal entry vessels, or SIEVs. The spy planes fly as close as 30 miles from the Indonesian coast.

REAR ADMIRAL MARCUS BONSER, COASTWATCH DIRECTOR GENERAL: The whole general area is being covered by what is probably the most comprehensive surveillance that I`ve seen in some 30 years of service, Senator.

Unlike SIEV-X, this boat was located and intercepted as part of Operation Relex. Aside from carrying out government policy, the navy has a legal and moral duty to respond to vessels in distress, known as a `Safety of Life at Sea` Situation, or SOLAS. But the navy says they saw no sign of SIEV-X.

VICE ADMIRAL CHRIS RITCHIE, CHIEF OF NAVY: SIEV-X, to my knowledge, never ever came within our search area, and we did not change our search area specifically to look for SIEV-X.

Despite the questions now being asked about where SIEV-X foundered, in the midst of the last election campaign, the Prime Minister had already made up his mind.

JOHN HOWARD (23 October, 2001): We had nothing to do with it. It sank - I repeat sunk - in Indonesian waters, not in Australian waters. It sunk in Indonesian waters, and apparently that is our fault.

TONY KEVIN: There`s the first map just showing the area of operation of Operation Relex.

But as previously reported on Dateline, Tony Kevin says the boat went down in international waters. His calculations are based on initial media reports and information presented to the Senate inquiry. Dateline also obtained a set of coordinates from the Harbour Master here at Sunda Kelapa Port in north Jakarta. They came from the boat that rescued the survivors. The position of the coordinates, 51.5 nautical miles from Indonesia, is very similar to Tony Kevin`s calculations. That`s well into international waters and right in the surveillance area of Operation Relex.

SENATOR ROBERT HILL, DEFENCE MINISTER: We haven`t seen any evidence from fishermen. It hasn`t been put to Defence. I`m saying to you that we were observing those waters on the 19th - on the 18th, 19th and 20th - and we saw no sign of the boat. We therefore believe it most likely sunk off the Indonesian coast in the vicinity of the Sunda Straits.

The coordinates have been available to Defence and were even mentioned in a recently released Defence task force report on SIEV-X.

SENATOR ROBERT HILL: Who`s got the evidence? I haven`t seen anything from fishermen. Why should we be chasing Indonesian fishermen?

CAPTAIN IMAM (Translation): They looked sad. They were in tears. Tired and sad. What is more, some of their relatives drowned.

If the Government and the defence force genuinely want more information about the rescue, they should talk to this man, Captain Imam. He`s the man who rescued the survivors, and this is his boat. Its name has changed, but last October it was called the `Indah Jaya Makmur`. Captain Imam says he was out fishing when he saw bodies and luggage in the water.

REPORTER: What did you see?

CAPTAIN IMAM (Translation): The broken remains of the boat.

REPORTER: Did you first see the boat or the people?

CAPTAIN IMAM (Translation): I saw the people first. The people were moving along with the red life buoys. I saw the people first.

REPORTER: Dear or alive?

CAPTAIN IMAM: Still alive.

TONY KEVIN: Prime Minister Howard was very keen to plant firmly in the Australian public mind the impression that this was an Indonesian disaster, it happened in Indonesian waters, it had nothing to do with us.

Since his appearance before the Senate inquiry, Tony Kevin has vigorously pursued the SIEV-X matter, and he`s not about to let it drop. He claims fundamental questions on the issue have been submerged by the Government.

TONY KEVIN: What were the border protection authorities doing? Did they see the boat? Did they try to find the boat? What sort of intelligence were Australian authorities getting on the boat? None of those questions began to be asked until, really March, April this year.

These are the questions being asked at the Senate inquiry, but it`s no easy matter getting to the bottom of who knew what about SIEV-X and when. Operation Relex involves coordinating, amongst others, the Defence Force, government agencies, the Federal Police, Coastwatch and the Department of Immigration.

REAR ADMIRAL GEOFFREY SMITH: I swear that the evidence I shall give before this committee shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.

Testimony in April by Australia`s maritime commander, Rear Admiral Geoffrey Smith, set out what was until then the accepted version of information about SIEV-X. Smith is the commander of Operation Relex. If anyone knows the full story, it should be him. But he told the inquiry that despite Operation Relex`s comprehensive surveillance, the first he knew of SIEV-X was on October 22, when the story broke in the media, three days after the boat sank.

REAR ADMIRAL GEOFFREY SMITH: At no time under the auspices of Operation Relex were we aware of the sailing of this particular vessel until we were told that it had in fact foundered.

But Smith`s testimony didn`t ring true for another rear admiral, Mark Bonser, head of Coastwatch. He raised the alarm after reading the `Canberra Times`.

REAR ADMIRAL MARCUS BONSER: I called Admiral Smith`s office after I`d seen a letter to the editor that he`d written in the `Canberra Times`, to say that I thought there was some inconsistency between his evidence and the flow of information as I knew it and I thought they ought to check a range of other messages.

JOHN FAULKNER, ALP SENATOR: Alright. Could you go through that - those inconsistencies with us - could you just go through that in detail?

REAR ADMIRAL MARCUS BONSER: Well, the primary one was the comment that when the first time that notification of SIEV-X occurred, which wasn`t consistent with the flow of information as I knew it.

This was the first crack in the official position on SIEV-X. The same morning that Mark Bonser appeared before the inquiry, which meets here at Parliament House, this remarkable letter was tabled by Admiral Smith. It`s titled "Clarification of Evidence". Curiously, it was withdrawn a short time later. It said Coastwatch had initially reported the vessel on October 14 last year, well before it sailed, not the 22nd, as Smith had earlier testified. Less than two weeks later, the navy was scrambling again. Navy Chief Rear Admiral Chris Ritchie was forced to clarify Smith`s letter of clarification.

VICE ADMIRAL CHRIS RITCHIE: I said you can go back as far as September 5 and start talking about Abu Qussey preparing two boats to go to Christmas Island. Admiral Smith has chosen there to start a little later in the chronology and perhaps he`s really talking about what he thinks is relevant to the sailing of the vessel, but I don`t know why he hasn`t said anything earlier than that.

SENATOR JOHN FAULKNER: Well, I don`t either and that`s what I`m now just trying to understand.

Admiral Smith has not yet explained why he gave different versions of his evidence to the Senate inquiry and has twice declined to be interviewed by Dateline. So what was known about SIEV-X and when? It seems there was considerable information in the system about the doomed vessel. As revealed in the admiral`s letter, Coastwatch received intelligence on October 18 and 20 last year, that SIEV-X was reported to have departed Indonesia for Christmas Island. The message of the 20th contained this chillingly accurate description of SIEV-X: "Allegedly as small and with 400 passengers onboard, with some passengers not embarking because the vessel was overcrowded." But for the navy, much of the intelligence was inconclusive.

VICE ADMIRAL CHRIS RITCHIE: But the point is that none of that intelligence is definite, none of it in general is specific and much of it is continually countermanded. For example, it may be reported that a boat possibly sailed from the south coast of Sumatra on this date with this many people. The next day it might be said, no, it didn`t sail from the south coast of Sumatra, it probably sailed from somewhere east of Jakarta, and it might be going in the other direction. So that was the sort of thing.

Inconclusive for the navy, but these notes from the Government`s own people-smuggling task force paint a very different picture. The high-level task force met here in the Prime Minister`s Department in Canberra throughout October. It included government representatives and the Armed Forces. Its job was to assess all relevant information and provide advice to ministers and the Prime Minister.

JANE HALTON: I`ve gone back and looked at the minutes of meetings.

Jane Halton, who chaired the task force, intimated to the Senate inquiry that she didn`t know much about SIEV-X. But on October 18, the day SIEV-X sailed, the task force notes say boats were en route for Christmas Island with "some risk of vessels in poor condition and rescue at sea". This is based on "multi-source information with high confidence level." By October 22, SIEV-X is described as "not spotted yet, missing, grossly overloaded, no jetsam spotted, no reports from relatives". And on the 23rd, the same day John Howard said the boat had sunk in Indonesian waters, his own task force notes say "vessel likely to have been in international waters south of Java." The Prime Minister has said he relied on reports and advice available at the time for his view the boat had gone down in Indonesian waters, much like his comments on the false children-overboard allegations, and he wasn`t about to elaborate at a press conference.

JOHN HOWARD (June 30, 2001): Well, I`m telling you I don`t have anything to add to what I`ve said.

REPORTER: So you`re not able to advise where you got that information?

JOHN HOWARD: I`m telling you I`m not adding anything to what I`ve said.

REPORTER: Why not, Mr Howard?

JOHN HOWARD: Because I`m not adding anything to what I`ve said.

REPORTER: What`s your reason for...

JOHN HOWARD: I`m not adding anything to what I`ve said.

As pressure mounted on the issue, a national newspaper produced a dramatic scoop based on information leaked by the Government. A P3 Orion spy plane had flown over the area where Amal and the others were locked in a desperate struggle to survive. It had seen nothing.

AMAL HASSAN BASRI (Translation): I looked to the side and saw my friend, Alia, crying over her son who was dead in front of her. At that time I was just silent, watching what was happening around me. I saw this dead one-month-old baby, who I`d seen being born. I was the first to hold him and give him to his father. I spent ten days at hospital with his mother. He was coming towards me as if to say goodbye. I wasn`t scared of any of the dead, except this baby. I couldn`t stand it so I pushed him away.

FARIS KHA DEM (Translation): I`ve written here the day and date of the disaster. On Friday, 19 October, 2001...

And these are the trousers that Faris was wearing at the time. He`s written the details of the tragedy on them. He intends to keep them forever in memory of his wife and his daughter who had been sitting on his knee.

FARIS KHA DEM (Translation): These trousers are so dear to me because my daughter, God rest her soul, sat in my lap throughout the journey.

Last week the Government released this report it had commissioned from a Defence task force on the SIEV-X affair. The report includes more detail on spy plane surveillance patterns during the SIEV-X journey. This is the flight path for the morning of 19 October, before the boat sank. 22 fishing boats were detected, but apparently no sign of SIEV-X. At 3pm the boat sank and 400 people went into the water, but there was no afternoon flight. It had been diverted further south to a position usually patrolled by HMAS `Arunta`s helicopter, which was being repaired. Another flight was scheduled late in the day and into the evening, but the surveillance map shows an impenetrable storm that the plane had to go around. Bad weather and fuel shortages often prevent 100% coverage of the surveillance area. The weather improves the next day, Saturday the 20th, and by mid-morning the survivors are being rescued by Captain Imam.

CAPTAIN IMAM (Translation): They were all around here. They were sitting all around here. They couldn`t all fit, so some came into the captain`s quarters.

REPORTER: Where?

CAPTAIN IMAM: Here. For the women and those who were ill. The old men sat up the back.

Again, a plane sweeps the area, but doesn`t see the rescue boat, nor the corpses or the flotsam and jetsam. After spending almost 22 hours in the water, Amal Hassan Basri can`t understand how the planes missed her and the other survivors.

AMAL HASSAN BASRI (Translation): I don`t know, like someone who`s lost their memory. Where do you think we were? The Bermuda Triangle? They say they saw nothing. Where did we go? We`re real. We didn`t die, we`re here.

The author of the Defence task force report, Rear Admiral Raydon Gates, may be able to shed more light on these matters, but he`s been banned from appearing at the Senate inquiry by Defence Minister Robert Hill.

SENATOR ROBERT HILL: Well, I don`t see that he`s got any relevant information. I`ve written to the committee four times actually asking them what they want him for, and they won`t say. He was working at the relevant time as head of the Defence College in Canberra, so I can`t see that there`s anything he`s got to offer.

So could the spy planes have spotted the survivors?

ALLAN BEHM, FORMER SENIOR DEFENCE OFFICIAL: Had the maritime patrol group of the Air Force been asked either to find that particular boat or, particularly, to have found the survivors of that vessel once it had foundered, they would have had a better-than-90% chance of finding them, I think.

As a former senior official in the Defence Department, Alan Behm spent 15 years making sure the Government knew what the Defence Department was doing and vice versa. Now he`s deeply critical of the way the public service has handled Operation Relex and provided direction for the military.

ALLAN BEHM: It seems to me that the whole thing has been appallingly coordinated and one would be forgiven, I think, for just describing it as a fiasco. If they could find that yachtsman Bullimore 1,000 nautical miles to the south-west of Australia, then I think they could have found a few hundred people floating in the water, but the fact is that they weren`t tasked to do it so far as I`m able to understand, and that`s where I think the problem actually lies. Those who were trying to manage the issue in the Australian Public Service were either too inexperienced in doing this kind of work, or had no real idea of how you connect policy to operations.

And here`s another part of the SIEV-X mystery. The survivors that Dateline has interviewed are unanimous on one dramatic point. During their horrendous night in the water, boats arrived and shone bright lights on them, but failed to rescue anyone.

AMAL HUSSAN BASRI (Translation): But they didn`t come closer. I believe they heard our voices and we thought they`d come for us, but they didn`t move.

FARIS KHA DEM (Translation): The ships were huge and we heard their sounds. We were shouting in unison. We were spread around in the sea. I don`t know how many hours after the disaster... Maybe it was... Maybe it was four hours after the disaster, or five hours, but I know it was at night, with rain and thunder. We screamed and blew into our whistles... We were told to gather in one spot and shout loudly all together so the voices wouldn`t dissipate and they`d hear us. Also to blow into our whistles at the same time. We kept on shouting and waving until I saw this...It`s like losing something at night and searching for it, looking for it with a torch in your hand... They shone spotlights at us. From what I saw the spotlights were huge and you can say they combed the area.

Amal Hassan Basri says at least one of the vessels was a navy boat.

AMAL HASSAN BASRI (Translation): I can recognise a commercial boat, but that one wasn`t. It was clearly military. A navy boat.

The Australian Navy says categorically that its nearest vessel, HMAS `Arunta`, was 150 miles away. Dateline has learned that Indonesian police and navy patrol boats are active in the area where SIEV-X foundered, but as yet there is no proof of whose boats were there.

COLONEL PRASETYO, INDONESIAN POLICE (Translation): The vessels were definitely not Indonesian naval ships or Indonesian patrol ships.

Back in Canberra, the Senate inquiry continues its questioning of key players in this murky affair. Last week`s session was, at times, riveting. Finally the chain of intelligence about SIEV-X was revealed. At issue was a vital message relayed from Jakarta that SIEV-X had departed. Dateline understands the Australian Federal Police in Jakarta were tipped off by an informer late in the evening of October 19, that SIEV-X had left the day before. By now SIEV-X had sunk, but the survivors were struggling in the water. Six hours later, early on the morning of the 20th, the police rang federal agent Kylie Pratt in Canberra. She quickly alerted Coastwatch and added a personal opinion that the boat was at extra risk because of reported overcrowding. Coastwatch relayed the information here to Defence Force`s joint intelligence centre, known as ASJIC, in Sydney. The inquiry called the centre`s commander, Colonel Patrick Gallagher. He only received short notice from his superiors about his appearance, but came armed with some dramatic information.

COLONEL PATRICK GALLAGHER, AUSTRALIAN THEATRE OF JOINT INTELLIGENCE CENTRE: The ASJIC took that report from the AFP via Coastwatch on the morning of the 20th to be corroboration of the fact that a vessel had left. That`s why we issued an intelligence report, because it was a weekend, because the way to get the attention of people out of normal working hours is to send them an immediate message, amongst other things.

But it seems getting people`s attention to this potentially life-saving fact was easier said than done. It was another 48 hours before the Defence hierarchy confirmed the departure.

JACINTA COLLINS, ALP SENATOR: Why would it then take a further two days for Defence to accept confirmation?

COLONEL PATRICK GALLAGHER: I honestly can`t comment on that. It`s outside my area of responsibility. Those sorts of decisions would have been taken in Canberra. I wasn`t here. I don`t like saying that, but the fact of the matter is I was not in Canberra at the time, I was not a member of the...

SENATOR JOHN FAULKNER: That`s a fair enough thing for you to say, Colonel. We appreciate that. We do understand it.

SENATOR JACINTA COLLINS: From the committee`s point of view, though, those two days, as I`m sure you`ll appreciate, were absolutely critical to 400 lives.

COLONEL PATRICK GALLAGHER: Yes.

TONY KEVIN: The AFP liaison officer, Kylie Pratt, who phoned it through, added that personal opinion. She clearly hoped that something would be done about it. Somehow or other in the bureaucratic maze of Operation Relex, that urgent human appeal got lost.

The SIEV-X affair raises serious questions about the structure and focus of Operation Relex. It`s a complex issue, but at its heart is a simple question. At what stage does information about a missing grossly overcrowded boat trigger a search and rescue attempt? That question was put last week to Commissioner Mick Keelty, head of the Australian Federal Police.

SENATOR JOHN FAULKNER: And so, did the AFP consider there might be a possible safety of life at sea situation?

MICK KEELTY, AFP COMMISSIONER: Excuse me, Senator. I`ll just get some advice on that.

Commissioner Keelty went into a huddle with his legal team for five minutes and emerged with the response his answer might prejudice a prosecution against people smuggler Abu Qussey.

MICK KEELTY: Senator, I`m advised that the answer to that question falls into the category of concerns identified by me in my opening statement and therefore I`m unable to provide an answer.

"I can`t answer that" is a common response as the inquiry tiptoes around prosecution and intelligence issues, but a short time later the question was put hypothetically.

SENATOR JACINTA COLLINS: Yes, and I`m asking you hypothetically, a 20-odd metre length vessel with some 400 people on board rather than the standard 200-odd, that we know over time had historically been put on such a vessel, would the AFP regard that as a safety of life at sea situation?

MICK KEELTY: If we knew those things that you said, the answer is yes.

Amongst all the ministries and government agencies involved in Operation Relex, Philip Ruddock`s Department of Immigration is where intelligence from Indonesia is first analysed. That makes them the catalyst for a response in an emergency. Edward Killersteen from the Immigration Department also sat on the Prime Minister`s people-smuggling task force. Last week, he too was asked about saving lives at sea.

SENATOR JACINTA COLLINS: We have an AFP report from the 20th saying "grossly overloaded" and "we have concerns for safety", but, apart from references such as this in the minutes, we don`t seem to see any safety of life at sea response to that report. Now, is one of the problems that nobody had that clear responsibility, or focus?

EDWARD KILLESTEYN, IMMIGRATION DEPARTMENT: Well, Senator, the focus of the people-smuggling task force was around managing the surge in unauthorised arrivals. Information was being provided about the likely time of arrivals. There were naval assets and Coastwatch assets in the vicinity and, to the extent that safety of life at sea issues arose at that time, then they would have been, I imagine, fulfilled.

SENATOR ROBERT HILL: Well, the driving force is not care and compassion, that`s true. We do our job with a sensitivity, but basically our job is to protect Australian borders. Having said that, if we find, of course, that there`s a rescue mission needed, if there`s a boat in distress, we obviously respond to that call.

ALLAN BEHM: The key performance indicator, if you like, for the success of Operation Relex is the exclusion of these people from Australia. What you might describe as humanitarian issues, or compassion issues, seem completely to have been lost sight of and I don`t think that they are mutually exclusive and, indeed, in my experience of the Defence Force, the Defence Force is perfectly capable of bringing both of those elements together. It does so all the time.

TONY KEVIN: It`s almost as if safety of life at sea has been defined out of the equation, because we`re being told in some testimony that, well, "We`re never sure intelligence is conclusive until either the boat`s arrived or we`ve heard that it`s sunk." What that means is that you`ve almost defined away the possibility that you might be facing a safety of life at sea emergency in Operation Relex, and that is a horrifying thought.

While Australia maintains its tough policy on border protection, it`s clear that under the current structure of Operation Relex, another SIEV-X-style disaster can`t be ruled out. As Amal Hassan Basri begins her new life in Australia, she has a very sanguine view about truth and the tragedy of SIEV-X.

AMAL HASSAN BASRI (Translation): The facts don`t come out at the time. They come out step by step, slowly. One day, in relation to our boat, more and more facts will be revealed.

Source SBS

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch