Sinking of a boat off Indonesian coast

The Hon. Jason Clare MP
Minister for Home Affairs
18 December 2011

JASON CLARE: A terrible tragedy is happening off the coast of Indonesia. Information is still coming in - but I will give you as much information as I have. Obviously through the course of the day more information will become available.

At approximately 7am local time yesterday a vessel capsized 40 nautical miles off the coast of Java. Advice from Indonesian authorities is that approximately 250 people were on board.

The current information from Indonesian authorities is that 87 people have been rescued and two bodies have been recovered. Obviously grave fears are held for those on-board.

The search and rescue effort is continuing - and Indonesian authorities coordinating the search and rescue effort. The Australia Maritime Safety Authority has been working with Indonesian authorities through the morning. Australia has offered a P-3 Orion aircraft and an Armidale class patrol boat to assist with the rescue effort if required.

This is a terrible tragedy, people have died there are people still missing at sea. Our focus today is now on the search and rescue effort and our thoughts today are with the people whoíve died and with the families of those still lost at sea.

Iím happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Did we know this boat was coming? Did the Australian Government have any indication that this boat was coming?

JASON CLARE: Australian authorities were advised by Indonesian authorities about the boat and it capsizing late last night. So information to Australian authorities came late last night in Jakarta and that was transferred to Australian authorities in Canberra early in the morning. Australian authorities have been working with Indonesian authorities since that time.

JOURNALIST: We obviously get pretty good intelligence about people smuggling syndicates. Did we have any information prior to being notified formally by the Indonesian authorities that a vessel of this size was about to take the water?

JASON CLARE: Iím not going to get into the practice of providing information on intelligence I donít think thatís appropriate. But what I can tell you is this the information about this boat and the information about it capsizing off the coast of Java was provided by Indonesian authorities to Australian authorities.

JOURNALIST: I know youíre saying this is all about the current situation of the people on board and those whoíve lost their lives, but people are already making political comments regards to this arrival and saying that itís because of the policy of onshore processing that these accidents are happening. Whatís your response to that?

JASON CLARE: Well todayís not the day for politics. Iím not going to go into the politics of this. People have died a boat has capsized off the coast of Indonesia and there are search and rescue efforts now looking for people who are potentially still alive out at sea.

So today is not the day for politics, there will be plenty of time for that. Thereíll be plenty of time to talk about the politics of this issue in the days ahead but today is not that day.

JOURNALIST: Do we know who was on board?

JASON CLARE: There have been reports from individuals who were on that boat as well as Indonesian authorities that people on board were from a range of different countries from the Middle East.

JOURNALIST: Do you know if theyíve previously attempted to or have been in Australia before?

JASON CLARE: No, no I donít have that information itís probably too early to tell but thatís the sort of information that could become available over the course of the next few days.

JOURNALIST: Do we know if there were emergency calls made from the boat?

JASON CLARE: I donít have that information. What we do know is that local fishermen were on hand to rescue the 87 people that have been picked up. So, thatís the information from the Indonesian authorities at the moment on the individuals from the capsized vessel.

JOURNALIST: How worried are you that weíve had two similar incidents in the space of just two months? Both from the same area?

JASON CLARE: It is the same area. The last incident that occurred on the first of November occurred off the southern coast of Java but closer in shore, around about 12 or 15 nautical miles into shore, this was further out.

Whenever people make a dangerous journey and people risk their lives Iím concerned about it and when people are dying at sea Iím very concerned about it.

A terrible tragedy has occurred. We need to do everything that we can to save as many lives as we can and thatís what Indonesian authorities are doing right now.

JOURNALIST: Does this indicate that people smugglers are taking far greater risks than they were before? I mean it was pretty poor weather and an over-crowded vessel thatís obviously a poor quality vessel. Are they sort of using untrained young fishermen to ferry these people across to Australia because of the penalties (inaudible)?

JASON CLARE: Well people smugglers are taking peopleís money and taking peopleís lives. Thatís what weíve seen today.

If thereís anyone to blame for this, itís the scum that take people and put them on to a boat and risk their lives.

They traffic in other peopleís misery, risking other peopleís lives and we see the consequences of that today.

JOURNALIST: The system seems to have worked to produce dangerous boats. The incentive is to send the worst possible boat from Indonesia, because they know itís going to be destroyed here and send the youngest possible crew members. So we have inexperienced people on dangerous boats and thatís actually increasing the chance of these disasters?

JASON CLARE: I know thereís been some comments about that today. Todayís not the day for me to go into the politics of this, about what people smugglers do and donít do or what the policies should be of the Government or the Opposition. Today is not the day to go there, thereíll be plenty of time to have that discussion in the days ahead.

But letís focus, letís focus here - people have died and there are other people still out at sea who may still be alive and our focus needs to be right there now.

JOURNALIST: Just on that point, just on the incident itself, what are the prospects for, if you can tell us a bit about the rescue effort thatís underway, the conditions. Are we expecting to see more survivors pulled from the water, have we got any information on that?

JASON CLARE: Obviously the longer people stay at sea, the chances of survival reduce. Weíre entering the monsoon season, the weather there is not great. But, itís fair to say that the weather is not awful but weíll get you some information on the current state of weather there.

JOURNALIST: Just on the passengers, there were reports that there were up to 40 kids on the boat have you got any information on that?

JASON CLARE: I know there have been reports about that. We donít have any details from Indonesian authorities at the moment.

Just to answer your question from one before, we understand that Indonesian authorities as part of their coordination of effort theyíve got police on the ground in Java working on this issue but they also have Navy vessels in the area looking for survivors.

JOURNALIST: Have the Indonesians taken up the offer of the Orion and the other (inaudible)?

JASON CLARE: Not yet, weíve offered that assistance and if they think that that assistance would be useful then Iím sure theyíll take that up that but thatís a matter for the Indonesian authorities.

JOURNALIST: What about the three rescue vessels? The high-speed vessels the Australian had promised Indonesia when Julia Gillard visited Indonesia not that long ago? How long is it going to take and is that a measure thatís really going to be sufficient, three vessels to cover off a lot of coast line?

JASON CLARE: Youíre right - the archipelago of Indonesia makes this task extremely difficult. The priority is to ensure that this sort of activity doesnít occur. My predecessor Brendan OíConnor was in Indonesia only very recently where he talked about those vessels. We can get some more information on the current state of those.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried youíre going to be doing more and more of these? This is two in two months and as you say weíre coming into monsoon season. Are we going to be here on a regular basis talking about this?

JASON CLARE: I worry about any potential loss of life. Every life is precious and we need to do everything that we can to ensure that there is no loss of life. But Iím not going to go there today in terms of the policy debate that will inevitably occur over the next few days. Today is not the day for that.

JOURNALIST: (Inaudible) the Malaysia solution given the new numbers in the house?

JASON CLARE: And that will be a debate for tomorrow. Today is a day to focus on people that have lost their lives and saving people that still might be out at sea.

JOURNALIST: It would be almost certain that some of the people on that boat would have relatives or friends in Australia. (InaudibleÖ.), has anybody been contacted by concerned relatives in Australia?

JASON CLARE: No, not to my knowledge at the moment, but we can follow that up for you if you like.

JOURNALIST: What about clashes on Christmas Island and some of the detention centres get quite tense and anxious, are we expecting any problems I suppose in the detention centres?

JASON CLARE: The Department of Immigration has made contact with the detention facilities and passed on information about the events that have occurred. The Department of Foreign Affairs has also put together a contact number for people who want more information. Iíll get that number for you and we can provide that to TV stations and radio stations as well.

JOURNALIST: One other thing, does the Australian Government have any suspicions about the organisers of this particular venture?

JASON CLARE: We have no definitive information that tells us exactly who organised this, but obviously Australian officials work closely with Indonesian officials and theyíll continue to do that.

JOURNALIST: Do we have enough resourcing over there?

JASON CLARE: Australian Federal Police work very closely with Indonesian Federal Police. The best way to tackle the work of people smugglers is to work in a coordinated way -- Australian authorities working with Indonesian authorities, on the ground. Thatís exactly what we do.

Iíve been in the job now for a short period of time but thatís been the focus of discussions with the Federal Police Commissioner. Heís given me a very good briefing on the work that our Federal Police do.

JOURNALIST: This usually slows down during the monsoon season. Are you worried that smugglers will run the gauntlet and continue through the particularly dangerous time?

JASON CLARE: Iím worried about any boat, any boat that sets to sea and the risk to the people, to the lives of the people that are on that boat.

People smugglers have proven that theyíre prepared to crowd boats and take peopleís money with little regard to whether the boat makes it to its ultimate destination. Theyíre interested in making money and it doesnít matter if itís going to cost the lives of people they take the money from. So yes, Iíd be concerned about any action that people smugglers take to put more people on boats.

JOURNALIST: We seem to be seeing a trend towards large boats as well. More people (inaudible) boats. Itís not uncommon now to see 100 or 200 and in this case apparently 250. Whatís behind that trend? Whatís causing it?

JASON CLARE: I think youíre seeing different numbers. The two boats before this were in the order of 70 and I see to recall about 50 so itís too early to tell, to drive a conclusive analysis as to why boats are the size that they are.

But I think it is reasonable to assume that criminals that take money off people and send them off to sea, will try and put as many people on a boat as they can. Theyíre in the business of making money and they donít care if it kills people or not.

JOURNALIST: I appreciate youíre not going into intelligence and we wonít draw you on that. Just, weíve seen a surge in activity in the past couple of months, weíve seen a real increase in the number of boats that have been arriving. Can we expect that tempo to continue? What sort of picture can you draw about boat arrivals for the next few months?

JASON CLARE: Subject to a number of things. Subject to weather conditions, itís subject to the willingness to hand over money for what is proving to be a deadly pursuit. So there are a number of things that will determine that and I suspect over the course of the days and weeks ahead thereíll be a discussion about that.

JOURNALIST: Do you expect that because there have been a number of these tragedies and loss of life that it will perhaps work to discourage some asylum seekers from (inaudible)?

JASON CLARE: Well, I hope so. I donít want people getting on a boat and drowning in the middle of the sea.

This is incredibly dangerous and today proves it again. People have died today. We donít know how many yet, but potentially dozens and dozens of people have died. Itís a very very dangerous way to come to Australia.

JOURNALIST: What does it say about the state mind though if someone is willing to put their family on a boat, knowing that. Can you interpret what itís suggesting about their attitude and state of mind?

JASON CLARE: As I said before, people smugglers are trading in other peopleís desperation. Theyíre trading in other peopleís misery. Theyíre very happy to create a business that means they take money off people, thousands and thousands of dollars off people as youíve seen reported over the last few days, to take money off people put them into an overcrowded boat, push them off to sea and not worry if that boat reaches its ultimate destination.

Alright? Thanks very much.


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