2010 Christmas Island boat disaster
On 15 December 2010, a boat carrying around 90 asylum seekers, mostly from Iraq and Iran, sank off the coast of Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, killing 48 people aboard; 42 survivors were rescued. The boat was later named SIEV-221.
For a period of about one hour, the unpowered boat was washed back and forth as backwash pushed it away from the cliff. Many of those who entered the water grabbed onto the flotsam and jetsam as the boat quickly broke up. Residents tried to help victims by throwing them life jackets and other objects. Some refugees were battered by the debris from the disintegrating boat and some were able to use the life jackets thrown from the shore. Rescue efforts by Australian Customs and Border Protection included allocation of HMAS Pirie and ACV Triton, with at least 42 survivors having been recovered from the ocean. One man was able to scramble ashore himself with a great leap. Poor weather conditions made rescue operations difficult. Two critical care teams from the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia left from Perth to provide medical assistance.
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The Premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett, stated that "all available assets" were put on standby, and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that she would cut short her holiday to manage the emergency. A criminal investigation based on people smuggling laws is being undertaken.
It was originally thought the boat held about 70 people but this figure may be as high as 100. The political repercussions of the disaster continue, and are concerned with knowledge of the boat's movements and what actions were taken. Prime Minister Gillard responded to initial questions of why the boat wasn't intercepted by explaining that considering the very rough seas, the response time by border protection authorities was adequate and that the extreme weather made radar less effective.
The search for survivors of the shipwreck was suspended on 18 December after doctors advised that survival was by then unlikely. Memorial services for those who were lost occurred on the 19 and 20 December.
On 25 January 2011, three Indonesian men were charged with people-smuggling in connection with the incident. The men, who were on board the vessel when it sank, could face up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to A$220,000 per person.
The first burials for those killed in the incident were held on 15 February 2011, with twelve funerals occurring in Sydney, as families of the dead lived there, and five bodies being sent to other countries. The funerals in Sydney attracted opposition from the then Shadow Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison, who criticized the financial cost, and from some of the family members, who said the government failed to honor traditional Muslim funeral ceremonies.
On 11 July 2011, as part of the coronial inquest into the incident, the Western Australia's Coroner, Alastair Hope, began a series of public hearings on the island. The inquest heard conflicting evidence related to the knowledge of whether or not the Australian Navy was aware of and expecting another asylum boat. Sonja Radovanovic, the Assistant director of the Christmas Island Immigration Reception and Processing Centre claimed that she was told about another asylum boat in the vicinity by custom officials and that she was to speed up the processing of asylum seekers from a boat intercepted earlier that week.
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