Justice, at last, for the victims of Siev-X

The Australian
FRI 10 JUN 2005

IT would be hard to imagine anything more dreadful than the plight of the 400 asylum-seekers aboard the boat that became known as Siev-X. The rickety and grossly overloaded 19m wooden boat, manned by a couple of greedy Middle Eastern people-smugglers, sank in international waters south of Indonesia on October 19, 2001, barely a day after it had departed Sumatra. A total of 353 people drowned. Australia's tightening of border protection laws in late 2001 dissuaded the people-smugglers from pursuing their evil calling, and happily there has been no Siev-XI. Even more important, those responsible for Siev-X have now been brought to justice. The principal smuggler, Abu Quassey, was sentenced to seven years' jail by a court in Cairo in 2003 and, on Wednesday, a Brisbane Supreme Court jury convicted his accomplice, Khaleed Shnayf Daoed, of people-smuggling.

It would be nice if the conviction put the stopper on the bizarre conspiracy theories that have swirled around Siev-X, but that would be too much to hope for: the conspiratorialists did not miss a beat and were calling for a royal commission within minutes of Daoed being sent down. According to the more irresponsible of the hysterics, John Howard conspired to sink Siev-X, with the collusion of the Australian Defence Force, in order to deter more boats, or whip up ethnophobic hatred in Australia, or both. In another version, the ADF knew about, but ignored, the plight of the drowning Siev-X victims. Mr Howard can speak for himself, but the calumny this implies against the men and women of the ADF, who risk their own lives to save those imperilled at sea, is really beneath contempt. While it is true the Daoed trial did not address how Siev-X sank, a senate inquiry in 2002 did, and cleared the ADF of any blame. Our sailors, soldiers and airmen continue to do a fantastic job for us, while those responsible for the Siev-X tragedy are finally where they belong: behind bars.

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