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Issue #1588      April 10, 2013

Call for inquiry into boat tragedy

The Refugee Action Coalition has called for a full inquiry into the asylum boat tragedy that cost the lives of a woman and a child off Christmas Island.

“There are serious question to be answered,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, “It would seem that despite the extensive experience with asylum boats, that Australian navy and Customs ships are still not properly prepared to deal with potential accidents in such a situation.

“Customs and the navy have enough experience to know that boarding an asylum boat at any time is fraught with problems and any intercepting vessel has to be equipped and prepared for any and all eventualities. The Oceanic Protector had been shadowing the asylum boat for hours. There was plenty of time to assess the stability of the boat and any difficulties that might be encountered considering the number of people on board and the sea conditions at the time.

He said there was a need to know what instructions were given to the boat; whether they were told to stop, and if they were told to stop, did the Oceanic Protector give instructions about how to do that safely. Was the Oceanic Protector positioned to provide as much protection as it could? How far away was the Oceanic Protector? It would seem that some elementary safety procedures may have been overlooked.

“And then there is the question of the safety gear carried by the zodiac, and whether the zodiac boarding craft itself should have back-up. How many life jackets did it carry? Did it have safety-nets as has been recommended by an earlier coroner’s enquiry into deaths at sea?

“We need an open enquiry so that all the facts surrounding the incident are known and so the lessons of this tragedy can be fully incorporated into safety protocols by Customs ships and maritime safety authorities.

“We are also calling on the Australian government to show compassion and ensure that the asylum seekers from this boat are immediately moved into community and their processing begun without delay,” said Rintoul.   

Next article – National parks staff demand armour jackets

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