Friday, February 19, 2010


Red News Readers,

So if a Tony Abbott led government is going to turn the boats around and send them back out to sea, there will be more desperate actions like this.

Jenny Haines

Asylum seekers knew of plan


February 19, 2010

MANY of the asylum seekers aboard a boat that exploded near Ashmore Reef killing five people were aware of a plan to set it alight, the Northern Territory coroner says.

Greg Cavanagh said he held the reasonable view that a crime was committed on the boat known as SIEV36 before the explosion and would refer allegations against three Afghan men to authorities for possible criminal charges.

But Mr Cavanagh said it may well be that no charges are laid because any one of 49 people on the boat could have ignited the fuel, causing the explosion.

Summing up evidence at a three-week inquest into the deaths, Stephen Walsh, QC, counsel assisting the coroner, said it was likely that Sabzali Salman, Arman Ali Brahimi and Mohammad Anwar Mohammadi acted in concert to implement a plan that involved a series of deliberate acts to ensure they could not be sent back to Indonesia.

"The petrol was spilled by an Afghan passenger and it was ignited by an Afghan passenger at a point somewhere near the hatch of the bow or possibly a little towards the larger hatch at the front of the cabin," Mr Walsh said.

"The purpose was to disable the boat and prevent what was perceived to be their return to Indonesian waters."

But Mr Walsh said it was likely those involved did not expect there to be an explosion.

Peter Hanks, QC, counsel for the Commonwealth, said the lighting of the fuel "was a deliberate and malicious act and those involved must have known it would put lives at risk".

"It is clear that many of the passengers have knowledge of the events but have not come forward with that information," he said.

Mr Walsh said the asylum seekers became agitated and started screaming after they had been read an "inappropriate" warning notice which they mistakenly thought meant they were going to be forced to return to Indonesia.

He said the explosion could have been prevented if Australian Defence Force personnel had followed procedures.

"Clearly the most direct reason why the explosion was not avoided was because the unleaded petrol was not secured," Mr Walsh said.

Mr Walsh said the explosion may have been avoided if Australian Defence personnel who boarded the boat had confiscated lighters and matches.

He said the asylum seekers should have been simply and clearly told they were not going to be forced to return to Indonesia and would be taken to Australia.

Mr Walsh said changes in the way the ADF handles unauthorised arrivals meant Mr Cavanagh need not consider making any recommendations to the ADF.

"The lessons of SIEV36 have been appropriately learnt and actioned," he said.

Mr Walsh said if asylum seekers had been wearing lifejackets "it is possible some of the persons who died may have survived."

Lifejackets are now more readily available.

Other changes since the explosion include that warning notices are no longer issued to unauthorised boats and language cards have been issued to naval boarding parties.

Mr Walsh said no adverse finding can be made about ADF personnel rescuing their colleagues before the asylum seekers because more people may have died "if the navy officers had not acted as they did."

He said the evidence shows that an ADF medic, Sharon Jager, may have died if navy seaman Adrian Medbury had not kicked, forcing an asylum seeker hanging on to her to let go. He said the man who fell back into the water from a rescue vessel was rescued.

The inquest has been adjourned.