Asylum seekers recall boat sinking

George Roberts
Updated December 20, 2011 09:16:00

Survivors of the weekend's asylum seeker boat tragedy off Indonesia have told harrowing stories of the diaster. 15 more survivors have been found on an island 200 kilometres from where the overloaded wooden boat capsized. At least 200 people were though to be aboard and so far just 49 survivors have been found.

PETER CAVE: In Indonesia, 15 more survivors have been found on an island 200 kilometres from where their overloaded wooden boat capsized and sank east of Java in a tragic attempt to find asylum in Australia.

At least 200 people were thought to be aboard and so far just 49 survivors have been found, according to the ABC's George Roberts, who has been talking to some of them in the town of Blitar where they are being questioned by Indonesian authorities.

He says they have told him harrowing stories of the disaster, and of how they were brought to Indonesia by people smugglers.

GEORGE ROBERTS: They do really seem very desperate. They've been begging. I've had at least a couple of them begging me: are you going to help us, can you help us? And: the Indonesian authorities aren't helping us, you must help us.

They really have not made it a secret that they are really trying to do everything that they can to try to get to Australia. Yesterday they were threatening to get on another boat if the Australian Government doesn't help.

But the other thing is that they're starting to sort of realise that perhaps if they seem to be helping out, that perhaps that might be another way to effectively smooth the path for them to come to Australia, and some of the stories coming out of this have not quite stacked up.

One of the chaps that we spoke to has sort of changed his story slightly from the morning to the evening after speaking to immigration authorities here.

He then started telling us that one of the king pins, a guy called Sayed Abbas who's wanted in Australia for people smuggling, alleged people smuggling charges, who's in prison here, who's allegedly running his network from the prison, this young man said that Sayed Abbas called him and he wanted to meet with Sayed Abbas and said, can I meet you.

And this is what the young men said about that.

ASYLUM SEEKER: He told that no, he is already in jail here in Jakarta, he cannot see me. But he told, but if you want to go to Australia, just give me $5,000 and then I will get you as soon as possible.

Actually I didn't know yet I was anxious that how come it is possible? I pay that, I told, is it legal? He told, no, I will get you by boat. There is no danger, everything is good. Many people are going like this in the same way to Christmas Island and then the cases are being processed by Australian authorised in Christmas Island.

PETER CAVE: Why do you have doubts about what he's saying?

GEORGE ROBERTS: Look it just didn't seem to stack up with the story from earlier on. It also doesn't seem to work in terms of whether the so-called king pin or mastermind of this network, while he might be running it from prison, why he would get personally involved with one asylum seeker out of 250, potentially, who were paying $5,000 each. He would be trying to distance himself from the operation and keep it at arm's length and let the minions below him do the work.

But it was mainly that the story didn't seem to stack up and it came after being interrogated by the people smuggling task force here. Suddenly this name came up.

Now, we also know that they've got a couple of computers, I've seen them with laptops. I don't know who's brought those in for them. They've also got fresh phones, they're getting phone calls from family and they are reading the reports in the newspapers. And there was a report that linked Sayed Abbas to this situation and that's another possible way.

PETER CAVE: And what do they say about what happened when the boat went down, how did it happen?

GEORGE ROBERTS: Look they've told us some harrowing stories. They're saying that it really started listing to one side, it capsized over and then more water came on board. There were people below deck who managed to scramble out windows.

One guy said that the force of the water coming actually through pushed him out. But then they say there were bodies in the water, they saw family members, they were trying to save them, trying to help them. They grabbed on to the upturned boat.

And one of the men from Iran told there were still people inside the upturned boat while survivors on the outside were trying to get on top of that to save themselves, effectively pushing the boat down into the water with other people inside. And then how another wave hit them and then they all got separated.

PETER CAVE: George Roberts speaking to me there from Blitar in East Java.


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