Interview with Sabra Lane ABC AM – 22 June 2012

Topics: Search and Rescue Operation

TONY EASTLEY: Australia has two navy ships involved in the rescue operations. The area is about equidistance from the south of Indonesia and north of Christmas Island.

The Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare has some more details. He joins us now and he is speaking with Sabra Lane.

SABRA LANE: Mr Clare, good morning and welcome to AM. What is the latest? What can you tell us about the rescue operation for these people?

JASON CLARE: Good morning Sabra. The latest is that 110 people have been rescued last night.

Initial indications are that there were 200 people on the boat and that they were all male.

One of the survivors that the navy picked up last night was a 13 year old boy. But the remainder of the people I understand were all adults.

These survivors are now being transported to Christmas Island and a search and rescue mission continues out there some 100 nautical miles or more north of Christmas Island.

SABRA LANE: You’ve got two navy vessels there now. You’ve got a number of merchant ships there as well. You’re expecting more boats to join the location this morning?

JASON CLARE: There is one navy vessel there now, HMAS Larrakia. It’s in command of the search area at the moment. The other navy vessel HMAS Wollongong is transferring the rescued passengers to Christmas Island. It’s expected to arrive there very shortly.

Once it’s transferred those rescued passengers it will immediately return back to the search and rescue area to assist with the rescue operations.

But as you say, we also have the assistance of merchant vessels. Four merchant vessels will be in the area to assist today.

They’ll also receive the support of three aircraft, an AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority) aircraft, an air force aircraft and a border protection aircraft that will be flying overhead through the course of the day to try to identify more survivors.

SABRA LANE: And the weather prospects there, is that good for these people who are in the water?

JASON CLARE: We’re in that critical window at the moment where we could potentially find more survivors.

The advice I’ve got is that the water temperature is about 29 degrees. The sea state is sea state three, so not flat by any means. But at sea state three there is the prospect that there are people out there still alive.  Over the course of 36 hours from the time the boat capsized, my advice is that people can survive out there if they’ve got either life jackets or they are able to hold onto debris, as a lot of people did through the course of yesterday.

So the window is still there where we hold out the prospect of finding more people alive.

SABRA LANE: You’ve just given a chronology of when Australia first learnt that this boat was in distress, it appears it called Australian authorities 10pm Tuesday night, but that there was no location and Australia told Indonesia that there was a boat in distress.

It appears that Wednesday morning very early, 1.30 in the morning you were alerted to its location. What happened then?

JASON CLARE:  At 1.30 on Wednesday morning the boat rang back. It rang AMSA, the Australian Maritime and Safety Authority’s Rescue Coordination Centre. They repeated that the boat was in distress and advised at that time that they were 38 nautical miles south of the Indonesian mainland.

I’m advised at that time the AMSA officials told the people on the vessel to return to Indonesia, and in addition to that gave that further information to the Indonesian search and rescue authority Basarnas, and provided that information to customs and border protection as well.

SABRA LANE: A surveillance aircraft saw it on Wednesday afternoon and it appeared not to be in distress at that point. But you’ve said that you received more calls yesterday morning which alerted you to the fact that this boat was in trouble. What were the nature of those calls?

JASON CLARE: I don’t have details of those calls Sabra. But you’re right, we had an aircraft in the air on Wednesday afternoon and the information from that aircraft was that the boat was continuing to travel south to Indonesia but there were no visual signs of distress from the boat.

Nevertheless, Christmas Island border protection command began to preposition vessels to respond if an urgent request for assistance was requested.

We put another plane up in the air yesterday which arrived overhead at three o’clock, found a capsized vessel about 110 nautical miles north-west of Christmas Island with I think around about 30 or 40 people standing on the top of the capsized vessel.

SABRA LANE: There are reports that Indonesian authorities say that they were first alerted to this on Sunday and that they were quite confused, saying that they received a number of telegrams from Australia and that they believed that there were two boats out there in distress.

JASON CLARE: It’s the nature of these things, Sabra, I’ve seen it before. Information changes and that there can be confusion in the early stages.

The information I’ve got is that in relation to this boat, the first information we received was at 10pm on Tuesday night, that first call from the boat to AMSA, and that information was passed to Basarnas.

Last night I was at the Border Protection Command Operation Centre in Canberra. We were tracking information on this boat and also an alert about a problem with another boat. That boat was off the coast of East Timor where an emergency beacon had gone off and a search and rescue effort was commenced last night for that.

We sent a Dash 8 out to respond but the information that we’ve been able to collect overnight indicates that that boat wasn’t in distress and that now has been called off.

SABRA LANE: Minister, the Australian Christian Lobby says it’s time for both major political parties to put aside their differences on this issue, to stop playing politics and to sit down and devise a bipartisan solution.

JASON CLARE: Sabra, my position on this is well known. I am not going to elaborate on it today. My focus is on the rescue effort. There are still people out there. There’s still the prospect of finding more people alive out there. This is a debate that’s going to happen again but it’s a debate for another day.

SABRA LANE: Minister, thanks for joining us this morning.

JASON CLARE: Thanks Sabra.

TONY EASTLEY: Jason Clare with Sabra Lane.