Questions about Maritime Search and Rescue Operation

There are sensitive matters for loved ones when people die in tragic circumstances.

Timely, accurate and clear information is vital.

This morning 10 May 2010, I spoke to Belinda Cole (Media Contact at Minister for Home Affairs) about the tragedy which was mentioned in her Minister’s press release (almost as an afterthought).

I found her minister’s statement [MARITIME SEARCH AND RESCUE OPERATION COMPLETE] to be ambiguous, incomplete, implausible and lacking in easily contactable sources (i.e. only vague references are made to departments like Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). Belinda was unable to answer my specific questions. She suggested I contact Customs Media by phone. She also suggested I contact AMSA. She gave me an AMSA number that was generic. When I rang AMSA’s media team I got a voice mail.

When I rang the phone number that Belinda gave me for the Media Team at Customs, Patricia suggested I email my questions concerning the above. If The Minister’s Press officer has sent me to the wrong agency where can I go? Why hasn’t AMSA answered my query?

With all that in mind…

The Minister for Home Affairs states:

“Surveillance aircraft were deployed to continue searching the rescue scene following reports from rescued passengers that five passengers were missing, having left the vessel several days ago before help arrived.”

A range of inferences may be drawn from this Press Release by the Minister.

The Media Statement may be saying that passengers left a ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It may suggest these passengers left objects behind ‘including lifejackets and tyre tubes’. It may be implying that they swam for help in open waters. What really happened to the Sri Lankan refugees at sea between the 29th April and the 9th May 2010? What did Australian Authorities do to help.

If these inferences are correct and bearing in mind the inability of the Minister to provide satisfactory answers to my questions, please provide clear unambiguous responses to my specific questions:

  1. Why is the Minister for Home Affairs speculating about possible tragic deaths at sea?
  2. If the deaths are confirmed by statements from the asylum seekers, are those deaths reportable under the Coroner’s Act?
  3. Why does the Minister for Home Affairs media report that AMSA found objects ‘including lifejackets and tyre tubes’ that may have been ‘associated with persons missing’?
  4. Why did passengers leave a ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean? Why would someone desert the only thing that stands between them and drowning? Why did they swim for help in open waters? What circumstances caused them to leave their boat and swim out in a floating tyre tube? Why did they desert their lifejackets?
  5. What really happened to the Sri Lankan refugees at sea between the 29th April and the 9th May 2010? Please advise when I can expect an answer to the questions above.

No reply has been received from any government agency to my questions above. No acknowledgement of recipt of my emails has been received.

Murdoch’s ‘Australian’ published a front page news article with the superficial explanation headed ‘Sri Lankans panicked in rescue bid’. The article quotes the third officer from the cargo ship MV Postojna that rescued the 59 refugees on the 18m fishing vessel MV Velankanni Matha said that the five people lost ‘decided to go for a swim in hope…. looking for help’.

There is no detail in the article or in other reports that would force passengers on a sea worthy vessel (albeit without fuel) to embark on such a hazardous ‘swim’ in the open sea.

There is no critical analysis by public servants in the Ministers office, in AMSA or in Customs or Department of Immigration & Citizenship (DIAC) of the role of government policies in these tragic deaths.

Ian Curr
07 3398 5215

** this article was sent to Media Team (Australian Customs Service) OR relevant government Minister/authority.

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