Seasons Grievings

By DeusExMacintosh

Australia is launching a criminal investigation into the Christmas Island shipwreck that killed at least 28 people, under people trafficking laws.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said more bodies may be pulled from the sea after a boat carrying suspected asylum seekers crashed into jagged rocks. She said the boat may have been carrying more than the 70 passengers originally thought.

Forty-two people were rescued from the heavy surf after the boat broke apart…

Questions have been asked about how the boat managed to elude the Australian agencies charged with watching the country’s sea approaches.

Christmas Island lies in the Indian Ocean about 2,600km (1,600 miles) from the Australian mainland, but only 300km south of Indonesia.

The boat approached the island early on Wednesday. The alarm was raised when residents heard the passengers’ screams as heavy seas propelled the vessel onto the island’s rocky shoreline. Witnesses said the boat was smashed to pieces within an hour and survivors struggled to hang on to pieces of wreckage in the pounding surf.

It is believed the engine on the vessel failed, and island residents said the seas were the heaviest they had seen in months.

BBC News


  1. Posted December 20, 2010 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    And one does wonder about surveillance competencies of the navy and others.

    And we’ll spend gazillions sending our navy halfway to the south pole on a semi-regular basis for risk-loving solo yachties who cop a few more thrills than they were seeking… the costs ignored by the tabloid readers, full of self-congratulation about Oz commitment to humanitarian aid.

    On a lighter note… we need one… “Io Saturnalia” seasonal greetings to our blog hosts and all the regulars.

  2. kvd
    Posted December 20, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    And one does wonder about surveillance competencies ofcapability provided to the navy and others.


  3. Henry2
    Posted December 20, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Dave et al.,

    Im surprised and perplexed that you should expect the Navy to have the ability and capability to know the whereabouts of every small smuggling boat on Australias waters. I can imagine that any capability we do have in this regard is stretched to the limits by up to 3 of these vessels arriving per week. I dont know how many that 3 a week extends to once all the vessels at sea are accounted for.
    I am very surprised that the navy is being held responsible for this in some quarters. If the navy were responsible for the safety of these vessels at sea the simple answer would be for them to set station off of the Indonesian ports of departure and ‘rescue’ each boat as they leave port. Im not sure of the Indonesian response nor that of any fair dinkum Indonesian fisherman to such an action.



  4. TerjeP
    Posted December 20, 2010 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    I agree with Frank. Locating people in yatchs is made possible by rescue beacons. I doubt that people smugglers advertise their location so conveniently. On what I have seen the Navy behaved heroically.

  5. kvd
    Posted December 20, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Henry2/Frank please don’t misunderstand my correction. I think it is absolutely understandable and acceptable for any member of the public to wonder what actual capability for tracking and detection is available for our border protection – Navy included. “Competencies” has a different flavour, possibly implying a less than absolutely efficient useage of such capability.

    Further, I don’t think that capability is “stretched to the limits” by three boats a week. But I do think that our capability is affected by atmospheric conditions, type and track of object, prevailing sea conditions etc.

    But let’s wait on such facts as are grudgingly made available to us, after the appropriate spin has been applied – shall we?

  6. Posted December 20, 2010 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

    We need to have a grasp of just how big the oceans around Australia are. We are talking a very sizeable proportion of the planet. True, the black-market-in-people-movement vessels tend to come from a particular direction, but even that is a large area.

    BTW the term “people smuggling” does not really convey the salient point: that this is a black market in water transport, with all the quality control and other problems of black markets. Such as, in the words of Warren Snowdon MP:

    that some idiot would have put people on a wooden vessel in the cyclone season and tried to bring them to Christmas Island. That is just the grossest, most irresponsible behaviour I could ever imagine. It is criminal behaviour of the worst possible type.

    These would be the people of whom then PM Kevin Rudd said:

    People smugglers are engaged in the world’s most evil trade and they should all rot in jail because they represent the absolute scum of the earth.

    The RAN has 12 frigates, 14 patrol boats, 6 submarines, 6 minehunters plus sundry other landing craft and support vessels. That makes it one of the larger and more capable navies in either the Pacific or Indian Oceans but still does not give it a lot of actual hulls at any given time to patrol a very large area and it has other duties and concerns as well as tracking black market people transport.

    The cruel reality is that the more people get on black-market water transport, the more people will die. These people died where the camera could see them, generating natural reactions that testify to the power of pictures (one of the reasons why we live in the least violent times by human history), but they represent only a fraction of the total deaths since the increase in vessels attempting the passage, since the death rate will tend to track the attempt rate.

  7. Posted December 21, 2010 at 2:21 am | Permalink

    I think the sad truth here is that even the “mighty” Australian Navy {cough} is as bound by weather conditions as anyone else. Many of the Australian press stories were pointing out that the weather has been really bad and the seas were the worst they’d been in recent memory for the Indian Ocean. The only ones daft enough to be out on that were the people smugglers.

  8. Patrick
    Posted December 21, 2010 at 2:56 am | Permalink

    No, DEM, that is about completely wrong. The sad truth is that is really isn’t it anything to do with weather or navies or anything besides these three factors:
    1 incentives;
    2 incentives; and
    3 incentives.

    Terje’s comment goes into a bit more detail. To flesh things out a bit more:
    1 there is an incentive to try and get out of where people are (survival, a ‘better life’);
    2 there is an incentive to try and get to Australia (our policies); and
    3 there is an incentive to provide that service (money).

    Both Rudd and Snowdon’s comments are inane pointless drivel really. If you aren’t talking about the above incentives then you are talking about a different issue.

  9. kvd
    Posted December 21, 2010 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    [email protected] you may be right, and I am not competent to argue the toss one way or the other.

    My only concern is that fine personnel, doing a good job in apparently atrocious conditions should in any way have their competence called into question, or in any way – even peripherally – have any blame attached to them, during the inevitable inquiries which are about to take place.

    Inquiries look for causes, and then for people to attach blame to, so our politicians can sleep soundly at night. This is now a tragedy looking for convenient scapegoats.

  10. Posted December 21, 2010 at 4:13 am | Permalink

    Anyone blaming the RAN in those conditions is playing with themselves, seriously.

    [Father in RN; I tend to take this stuff personally]

    [Yes, I am on holidays at present, but I do lurk from time to time…]

  11. Posted December 21, 2010 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    [email protected]
    The RAN’s capabilities and actions are contrained by resources, instructions from Canberra, and intelligence… As well as the weather.

    Admittedly, wooden boats are hard to pick up, JORN can (on a good day, with a double-hop reflection) pick up a plane leaving Nagoya airpor, but cannot pick up a large flotilla of minesweepers off our coast.

    That the boat in question was first detected by ear suggests Canberra bears at least some responsibility, if only, given the sources of the refugees, for inaction or wrong action (bomb them, and they will come) in the countries concerned.

    But then again, the inconsistency in the views of the voting public as to numbers, means of transport, and skin color of those improperly staying in, or coming to, the country, imposes pressure on Canberra, pressure that could easily have been dismissed as the wikileaked cables on the matter, critical of KRudd, suggest.

    Yes, this event was caught on camera… not unlike images of the vietnam war that educated the public. I hope that the images and reporting have a similar effect on the public and then policy.

  12. the frollickingmole
    Posted December 21, 2010 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Any chance some of the people who abused me after my guest post here back in early 09 would like to reconsider their words in light of what happened?

  13. Henry2
    Posted December 22, 2010 at 6:36 am | Permalink


    What are the legal differences between UNHCR recognition of refugee status and onshore recognition?

    I agree we need to remove the incentive for folk to get on the boats.

    I think we need to move away from “use detention to stop the boats”. We need to erase or minimise the procedural and legal difference between applying for asylum from overseas and applying from Australian soil. (It seems to be that there are many more safeguards in the latter case, and much more chance of being accepted, and that is the fundamental incentive at play – to get here to get a more favourable outcome..)

    It would seem to me from reading between the lines of your comment that some people that dont fit UNHCR criteria choose the boat trip to give themselves a better chance of being accepted.

    If we gave people a more fair chance if they applied from an overseas centre dedicated to this, for example, people wouldn’t be making this desperate journey

    It occurs to me that each UNHCR camp is already a dedicated triage centre for refugee status. The staff at the camps see refugees before they become institutionalised into camplife. Why would we have to duplicate what is already in place?

    I accept that there are already many more refugees in the world than Australia can take. I dont have a position on the percentage of our overall imigration intake that refugees should comprise. It just annoys me that we choose to make a significate percentage of that refugee intake from amongst those that have been chosen by smugglers and sent across the ocean in craft inadequate for the purpose.



  14. Posted December 22, 2010 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    To paraphrase a common call: “Tough on refugees, or tough on the causes of refugees”. If there are life-threatening reasons why people flee a country, then action on the root causes is best.

    If Haiti’s cholera problem (a reasonable cause to flee) was on our doorstep, improving water supply, sewerage infrastructure and treatment facilities with well-targetted spending is the best option.

    One could also point to people-smugglers as akin to drug barons. Harm minimization to a society involves removing the incentive by decriminalization of drugs: something similar, easier alternative methods of leaving a country, might be useful.

    I think one thing that is not factored in properly in the treatment of refugees (by government, pundits, and public) is the formal action at diplomatic and especially military level by Australia.

    For the country of origin…
    * Are there current diplomatic sanctions? (an acknowledgement there are problems)
    * Are there travel warnings issued for Australians involving violence?
    * Is there current, recent, or planned military action by Australia? (an acknowledgement of extremely serious problems, and perhaps, some responsibility for the conditions causing people to flee)

    A refugee from any country of origin according to the above criteria can be assumed to be more likely to be a real refugee than someone from another country.

    Similar criteria could be applied to interim/transit countries, although per capita GDP can also be a factor, looking at the capability of that country to support people in transit.

    A full cost/benefit analysis should guide placement of accomodation during processing, including the difference between the dole (with the right to work similar to a working visa), and the cost of handling (transport to Nauru, which relies on imports of potable water, would fare badly, while something like the purchasing power parity would affect decisions to subsidise transit camps in an interim country).

    Such costings are relevant to both good policy development, and convincing the public that a policy is reasonable.

    The problems of DIMIA, highlighted in the Cornelia Rau case, as well as scathing eports by Ombuds and ANAO in recent years, certainly need to be addressed.

  15. the frollickingmole
    Posted December 22, 2010 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Legal eagle,
    That wasnt a crack at you, but some of the more “feel good think less” commenters.

    The best solution would be double the offshore intake and a withdrawl from the UN onshore applications alltogether. (but leave ministerial discretion in place, so to still provide a refuge of last resort).

    Source refugees only from the worst of the “places of first refuge”, so Afghanis from Packistan, etc. Not from indonesia or far flung places.
    But there is no “just right” policy, there will ALLWAYS be injustice, the numers are just too great.

    Posted December 22, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    *14, exactly the truth. A number of people are starting to come out now almost simultaneously to urge a revisiting of the wording of the laws.

  17. Posted December 23, 2010 at 2:53 am | Permalink

    TFM, as I said on your original guest post — when it got reanimated thanks to a link at Bolt’s — I am still very grateful to you for writing it and grateful to LE for commissioning it.

    We pride ourselves on this blog because the four of us do have different political views (our commenters reflect this) and yet we (mostly) keep it civil. The immigration issue is potentially toxic (along with Israel/Palestine, climate change etc) for a blog, but we do try to do the topic justice regardless.

  18. Posted December 23, 2010 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    This has been a particularly informative and fascinating thread, giving us all a great deal to think about.

  19. Henry2
    Posted December 23, 2010 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    [email protected]
    Just for historical accuracy, I am not aware of a link to TFMs Guest post at Bolts. I reanimated that page because I thought the subject needed discussion, at that time, at this place and TFMs post was the one I found to post to.


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