Concerns mount over stranded boat as Australian govt remains tight-lipped

Concerns mount over stranded boat as Australian govt remains tight-lipped

Written by Bella Dalima

02 Jul, 2014 | 7:55 pm

Several days have now passed since reports emerged of a boat reportedly carrying 153 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers, which was stranded off the coast of Christmas Island.

The Australian government has remained tight-lipped on the matter, citing the government’s policy of not confirming or otherwise commenting on reports of on-water activities in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders.

Varying media reports have emerged with regard to the fate of this mysterious vessel and its passengers.

Australian media quoting the President of the Christmas Island Shire Council, Gordon Thomson, said the asylum seekers, who have not communicated with civilians since Saturday morning, were on a boat allegedly intercepted by the Australian navy near Christmas Island.

Sarah Whyte, the Immigration Correspondent at the Sydney Morning Herald, has been closely following the developments on this story and speaking to Newsfirst, gave a brief account of the saga thus far.

Australia’s Fairfax Media understands a group of lawyers have obtained four names and the dates of birth of passengers believed to be on the vessel, which had spent two weeks travelling from India.

Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Human rights lawyer David Manne said Australians had the right to know whether the Abbott government was upholding its international obligations in providing protection to people needing protection.

Also speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Director of the Human Rights Legal centre in Australia, Daniel Webb agreed, saying that “a government confident its actions were lawful and decent shouldn’t go to such extraordinary lengths to prevent scrutiny”.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Australia, Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, speaking to News1st, said he had not been appraised on the situation.

Australian Immigration law does not require the government to appraise the High Commissioner or Ambassador of a nation, when such an incident occurs.

A high-ranking official at the Sri Lankan High Commission in Australia, confirmed that such instances had occurred in the past.

On Saturday, Ian Rintoul, Coordinating Officer at the Refugee Action Coalition, an Australian Refugee Advocacy group, told Australian media that they had lost contact with the boat that had originated from Pondicherry in India, that morning

According to Australian media the last report from the vessel said it was running low on oil about 175 nautical miles or about 300 kilometers off Christmas Island.

Twenty four (24) hours later, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that it is understood the 153 Tamil asylum seekers, all originally from Sri Lanka, left Pondicherry in southern India on a fishing trawler on June 13.

The same day, Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s office refused to confirm the existence of the boat.

Forty eight (48) hours later, The Guardian Australia reported that the Australian Customs vessel Ocean Protector, was last seen off the coast of Christmas Island near where the asylum seeker boat is believed to have been.

Yesterday, when questioned by Australia’s public broadcaster ABC Radio, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, refrained from commenting if such a boat did exist, but noted that the government was stopping boat arrivals to the country.

On the very same day, reports emerged that the asylum seekers had been handed over to the Sri Lankan navy, however, when Newsfirst made inquiries, Navy Media Spokesperson Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya, noted that there had been no such handover.

Incidentally, the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 carrying over 230 passengers and crew, which is also presumed to have disappeared on  March 8 this year, in the same ocean area, is still unknown.


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