Wednesday, 19 June 2024  
How many of the 1500 asylum seeker lives lost at sea since 2001 could have been saved?
Zahra (6), Fatima (7) and Eman (9) - the daughters of Sondos Ismail and Ahmed Alzalimi -  three of the 146 children who lost their lives when the vessel that has become known as SIEVX foundered in international waters en route to Christmas Island on 19 October 2001.
   SIEVX Comment
   The Disaster
   Abu Quassey
   Khaleed Daoed
   Maythem Radhi
   People Smuggling
   Not the First?
   Two Brothers
   CMI Index
   Hansard Extracts
  SIEV 358-Kaniva
  SAR 2012/5710
  SAR 2013/3821
Search with Google

The Boat That Wasn't There

by Marg Hutton
11 June 2003

Last August I wrote two short articles (1, 2) about the RAAF surveillance map of 20 October 2001, the day SIEVX survivors were plucked from the Indian Ocean by Captain Imam, the skipper of the Indah Jaya Makmur. I hypothesised that the fishing vessel spotted by the P3 Orion surveillance flight at 0819 that morning may have been the Indah Jaya Makmur, either on its way to the rescue or returning to Jakarta with the survivors safely aboard.

However, further evidence has come to light that almost certainly disproves this hypothesis. Earlier this year, Senator Collins put questions on notice to Defence concerning boats marked as spotted during this surveillance flight, including the fishing boat observed at 0819. Collins asked Defence:

Please provide details, including any photographs, of the fishing boats that were identified by the P-3C Orions on the morning of 20 October 2001 (in particular, the boats that were identified at 0752, 0759, 0814 and 0819).

The Defence reply to this question (W43) included a table, listing for each boat the coordinates of where it was observed, the direction in which it was headed and the speed it was travelling.

From this table it can be seen that the fishing boat spotted at 0819 - the closest marked boat to the survivor rescue coordinates - was headed south towards Christmas Island and not east towards the rescue position. Also it was travelling at 4 knots which means that it was at least six hours away from the rescue position, assuming that it maintained this speed. (See map showing that there was more than 20 nautical miles between this boat and the position where SIEVX survivors were rescued). No boats were shown on the RAAF map in the vicinity of the rescue coordinates.

This new evidence presents a dilemma:

On the one hand we have the Jakarta Harbour Master's report dated 24 October 2001 that precisely records the claimed coordinates of the position where the Indah Jaya Makmur rescued the SIEVX survivors - (07 40 00S / 105 09 00E).

On the other hand we have the RAAF surface contact map combined with the subsequent Defence answers to questions on notice that shows that the nearest fishing boat marked as observed by the RAAF Orion was approximately 26 nautical miles from where SIEVX survivors were found and could not have arrived on the scene in time to rescue the survivors and be heading back towards Jakarta by midday.

We can assume the rescue operation was a difficult and time-consuming exercise; the survivors would have drifted away from each other during 16 to 21 hours in the water and the rescue boat would have had to carefully comb a large area of sea to ensure that all survivors had been found.

We know that the rescue was completed by midday, so the fishing boat would have arrived on the scene several hours earlier.

So what are we to make of this contradiction?

The most benign explanation is that full coverage of the sector was not achieved and the surveillance flight missed the rescue boat. However, this seems unlikely. The flight used a tight track- separation in the western half of Charlie sector to ensure 100% coverage of the area where SIEVX survivors were rescued.

So there seem to be only two possible explanations for this anomaly. Either the rescue coordinates that were reported to the Jakarta Harbour Master on 24 October are incorrect or the surveillance map is not a true representation of what the P3 flight observed. Might an observed boat have been deliberately moved or simply not shown on this map?

Defence has form for doctoring evidence (eg 'Children overboard' photos); it also had a motive. If a fishing vessel had been observed and marked close to the rescue position then that would further bolster the case that SIEVX sank in the Operation Relex zone. At the time these maps were constructed, Defence was working very hard to sustain the government line that SIEVX had sunk in Indonesian waters. In contrast, the captains of the rescue boats and the Jakarta Harbour Master had no apparent reason to misrepresent the location where the survivors were found.

The RAAF surveillance maps of Operation Relex Charlie Sector were created as part of the Defence Review of Intelligence pertaining to SIEVX. This review was far from a disinterested exercise. As we have previously argued, the conclusions it reached about the sinking location of SIEVX were only achieved through misrepresentation and concealment of vital evidence. (See SIEVX & the DFAT cable, pp.18-21)

The surveillance maps cannot be taken at face value because they were created as part of this seriously compromised review. Similarly, Defence's reply to Collins regarding the subsequent destruction of photographs of the fishing boats identified by the surveillance flight cannot be accepted without question:

Digital photographs are taken to assist in the identification process. They are deleted once it is ascertained that the vessel is not a suspected illegal entry vessel and, therefore, no longer of interest. Consequently, there are no photographs of these fishing vessels.

On what date were these photos deleted? Were only digital photos taken? The Commander of the P3 Maritime Patrol Group, Air Commodore Philip Byrne, implied in his July 2002 testimony to the CMI Committee, that wet film was the norm and digital film was a recent innovation. (CMI 2166). And according to Rear Admiral Bonser it can take several days for wet film to be developed (L&C 257). Whether these photos were taken on wet film or digital film, were any still in existence on 23 October 2001, the day the story of the SIEVX sinking broke? If they were deleted after this date it would be interesting to know when and why. ( 12585) | ©Copyright Marg Hutton ~ / 2002-2014