Leaking like a SIEV

Crikey newsletter
10 June 2005

Christian Kerr, political correspondent, writes:

Iraqi-born Khaleed Daoed faces up to 20 years in jail after being convicted on Wednesday of helping to organise the voyage of the SIEV-X in which 353 asylum-seekers drowned in their attempt to reach Australia.

Judge Phil McMurdo adjourned the sentencing to a date to be fixed. The Brisbane jury acquitted Daoed on a separate charge of helping Egyptian Abu Quassey, currently in prison in his own country, to organise the voyage of another vessel, the Yambuck, which carried 147 asylum-seekers safely from Indonesia to Christmas Island in August 2001.

The trial has failed to answer many of the questions surrounding the tragedy. The SIEV-X sank in international waters south of Indonesia on October 19, 2001, about 33 hours after it left the southern coast of Sumatra. The wooden boat was shockingly overcrowded with more than 400 asylum-seekers, most of them Iraqis.

Evidence given during the trail has revived persistent rumours that drowning passengers were seen but ignored by Australian and Indonesian naval vessels. A Senate Committee investigated the failure of Australian navy to rescue SIEV-X survivors as part of the 2002 Children Overboard inquiry, despite the presence of vessels in the area as part of the shadowy campaign against illegal immigration, Operation Relex. The final report cleared the ADF, but still questioned how the foundering of the ship and the drowning remain undetected.

The Senate Committee investigated allegations that SIEV-X was sabotaged as part of a joint disruption program against illegal vessels by the Australian federal police and Indonesian authorities. AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty refused to give evidence to the inquiry on the grounds that it might prejudice pending investigations, and admitted that the Australian government had no control over Indonesia's disruption activities. The Committee called for a full independent inquiry into Australia's role in disrupting asylum-seeker vessels, but the government has refused to act.

The same allegations have now been raised in the Daoed trial - and remain unanswered. Calls for an inquiry have been mounting in the days since Daoed was found guilty. Labor, the Democrats and the Greens may well up the ante.

Former diplomat Tony Kevin, who has investigated the SIEV-X case, says there will be whistleblowers. 'People retire, their consciences start to weigh on them; they have a look at the pictures of those drowned children. They think about the possible role they may have played,' he said yesterday.

The verdict puts new pressure on the government. Will the truth ever out? And will it reveal more shameful secrets of the maladministration of the Immigration portfolio by Philip Ruddock and Amanda Vanstone. Bubbling under are more detention centre abuse stories.

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