ADF Not Responsible For SIEVX Deaths: Barrie
4 July 2002
Yesterday in Canberra, retiring Australian Defence Forces chief, Admiral Chris Barrie, used the occasion of his official farewell function to hit out at critics of the ADF about the SIEVX Affair :
I would also like to address today some of the genuine concerns raised by a number of commentators over the deaths of approximately 353 asylum seekers from the vessel now known as SIEVX. While this was a tragic event, the Australian Defence Force cannot be responsible for the deaths of those people. Our ships and aircraft received no distress calls. None of the vessels detected by our aerial surveillance around that time gave us any indication that they were aware of any vessel in distress, or had picked up survivors.
Moreover, our mission was directed specifically at enabling the Australian Defence Force to act when it could have a lawful authority to do so. That is, when vessels approached suspected of carrying asylum seekers, approached Australian waters. Not on the high seas and not in another country's waters.
The first indication received that the vessel had foundered was on the 23rd October. Let me remind you that the Navy has a proud record of rescue at sea. You may recall the crew of HMAS Adelaide, courageously rescuing all the survivors from SIEV4 when it foundered.
Advice available to Defence on when and from where SIEVX departed was contradictory and it did not provide a basis for changing surveillance patterns. Some commentators had concluded that the position of the sinking of SIEVX is known. The fact is the position where the vessel foundered is unknown and all attempts to estimate the location are speculative at best.
Senior Defence Force Officers testifying before the Senate Select Committee in Estimates have provided detailed information on Operation Relex. Unfortunately their factual testimony has been incorrectly construed by some to imply that we deliberately pulled back our aerial surveillance in mid-October of 2001 to the vicinity of Christmas Island. In fact, we continued to survey the area and we did not pull back the surveillance as suggested.
None of the surveillance flights detected the SIEVX vessel. I am scandalised that some people seriously believe that we somehow changed our modus operandi to deliberately avoid detecting this vessel. The men and women of the Australian Defence Force that I lead stand ready to assist people in distress, as we have always done. However, we can only effect rescue when we are aware there is a vessel in distress.
Other SIEVX news:
All-at-sea critics sunk by facts ~ Piers Akerman, 4 July 2002 (DT)
Barrie defends approach to sinking boat ~ 4 July 2002 (ABC)
Waiting game on SIEV-X saga ~ Margo Kingston, 3 July 2002 (SMH):
- SIEV-X Surveillance (Briefing paper on Aerial Surveillance Maps) ~ Matt Brown
- Tony Kevin on maps
- Changing the Watch (Ritchie & Barrie)
- Readers on SIEV-X