Vessels `sailed away' from Siev X survivors

By Kevin Meade
The Australian
7 April 2004

ABOUT 200 asylum-seekers lost at sea after the SievX sank frantically called for help and blew whistles when three ``metal boats' came near them, but the mystery vessels did nothing to save them and sailed away, a survivor told a court yesterday.

Faris Fadel Kadhem, an Iraqi refugee, told Brisbane Magistrates Court the vessels -- one small boat and two big ones -- came within 500m of the asylum-seekers and shone lights on them, but switched the lights off before abandoning them.

He also said he heard a plane circling overhead as the SievX, its pump broken down, filled up with water before it capsized. ``Until now I can hear that plane buzzing.' Mr Kadhem's dramatic evidence, given at a committal hearing on 12 charges of people-smuggling against an alleged co-organiser of the SiexX voyage, Iraqi Khaleed Daoed, raises new questions about whether the stricken passengers were seen by Australian or Indonesian naval vessels or aircraft.

Mr Kadhem stood up in the witness box and asked commonwealth prosecutor Alan Macsporran if the federal Government had investigated whether the vessels he saw that night were ``commercial, tourist or military' boats.

A total of 353 people drowned after the SievX sank on a voyage from Indonesia to Chistmas Island on October 19, 2001. Forty-five survivors were rescued by Indonesian fishing vessels.

The Senate's Children Overboard Report in October 2002 cleared the Australian Defence Force of any blame over the SievX. But it also found it extraordinary that such a human disaster could occur in the vicinity of intensive Australian operations and remain undetected for three days.

Mr Kadhem, 36, also said Mr Daoed and the main organiser of the voyage, convicted Egyptian people-smuggler Abu Quassey, warned passengers that they would be killed if they refused to board the already overcrowded vessel.

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