Interview with Chris Smith 2GB Sydney – 21 June 2012

Topic:  Search and Rescue Operation

CHRIS SMITH: Jason Clare is the federal Home Affairs Minister and he’s been kind enough to give me some of his time.  Minister, good afternoon.

JASON CLARE: Good afternoon, Chris.

CHRIS SMITH: Now, as I read that situation through the introduction, does that accord with what you currently understand or have circumstances changed?

JASON CLARE: Yes, they have changed a little bit.  I’ve got some new information.  I’ve just been briefed by the Commander of Border Protection Command.  The number of survivors has now been revised down from one hundred-and-ten to one hundred-and-nine. 

I said at the press conference that there were two injured people that were pulled from the water. The latest information is that one of those is critical, they were resuscitated when they were pulled from the water, and the other one has stabilised.  We’re getting more information because the four vessels at the scene yesterday have now arrived back at Christmas Island. 

We’re getting more information from them, and this will continue to change over the course of the next few hours as we get more information from the survivors of what you described quite rightly as an unfolding tragedy.

CHRIS SMITH: The weather conditions, are they deteriorating?  Is that what we’re hearing now?

JASON CLARE: The latest information that I’ve got is that is it’s sea state three, so that’s pretty rough water out there.  The water temperature is twenty-nine degrees. 

The best information I’ve got from Border Protection Command is that people can survive for about thirty-six hours in those conditions if they’ve got a life jacket or if they’re holding on to debris.  So we’re still in that critical window. 

The latest information I’ve got is that we’ve just had a plane fly over the area. They’ve identified more debris, they’ve identified life jackets in the water, some that are floating on their own, some that have people wearing them and that they’ve identified more bodies in the water. So this is looking increasingly grim by the hour.

CHRIS SMITH: We’re told thus far that all survivors are male.  Is that right and does that surprise you at all?

JASON CLARE: No, it doesn’t and that’s correct information.  The information that I have is that all of the people on the boat were male and all with the exception of a thirteen year old boy were adults or are adults.

CHRIS SMITH: Do you know at all where most of those who have survived came from originally?

JASON CLARE:  I do.  The advice I’ve got from Border Protection Command is that these people are from Afghanistan.

CHRIS SMITH: Is it true a thirteen year old boy is amongst those plucked from the water?

JASON CLARE: It is indeed.

CHRIS SMITH: The Prime Minister has said the loss is expected to be substantial, what could it be?

JASON CLARE: The advice I have, and this is from authorities talking to people on the boat, is that there were approximately two hundred people on this boat.  As I said, one-hundred-and-nine people have been rescued, so we have something in the order of ninety to a hundred people that are still unaccounted for.

CHRIS SMITH: Okay.  At what stage did Australian authorities indicate to the pilot of the vessel to return to Indonesia?

JASON CLARE: That was at one-thirty in the morning on Wednesday morning.  Just to take you one step back Chris, we first were alerted to this boat by a phone call at ten pm on Tuesday night.  Someone from the boat contacted the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s Rescue Coordination Centre. 

They said that they were experiencing difficulties at about ten pm.  They didn’t tell us where the vessel was located at that time.  At that time we immediately advised, or AMSA immediately advised Basarnas which is the search and rescue authority for Indonesia, and they advised Border Protection Command. 

At about three and a half hours later, at one-thirty am on Wednesday morning, AMSA received a further phone call saying that the boat was experiencing difficulties and advised that it was thirty-eight nautical miles south of the Indonesian mainland. At that time I’m advised Australian officials told the people on the vessel to return to Indonesia.

CHRIS SMITH: So we didn’t really have a responsibility at that stage and in that geographical location to go and try and save the people on board?

JASON CLARE: What’s happened between then and now is that the boat has continued to travel south from Indonesia towards Christmas Island.  This search and rescue area right now is about halfway between Christmas Island and Indonesia. 

It’s a hundred-and-ten nautical miles north of Christmas Island, and one hundred-and-nine nautical miles south of Indonesia.  In the intervening period between this phone call on Wednesday morning at one-thirty and when the boat has capsized, it’s continued to travel south from Indonesia towards Christmas Island.

CHRIS SMITH: Okay, with the vessel capsized and yet you’ve got information there that you’re seeing debris in the water only, could it be that the vessel has now sunk?

JASON CLARE: That could be the case, I haven’t got that information.  I’ll follow that up for you.

CHRIS SMITH: Okay, you’ve got a merchant rescue boat about to enter the area, is that right?

JASON CLARE: It’s in the area now, Chris.  There are a number of vessels in the area.  Two merchant vessels are on the scene right now, in addition to one of our patrol boats.  Two more merchant vessels will be on the scene probably over the course of the next hour, and HMAS Wollongong, which has transferred the survivors to Christmas Island, is now on its way back to the search and rescue scene.

CHRIS SMITH: Is it true that these waters are relatively warm so therefore it would increase survival chances?

JASON CLARE: That’s right.  Twenty-nine degrees is the advice that I have.

CHRIS SMITH: Okay, there’s some information coming out of Indonesia that they’ve been confused on Australia’s handling of this.  Do you know the source of that?

JASON CLARE: There’s been a number of inquiries about different boats over the last twenty-four hours.  First this boat; I was at Border Protection Command’s operation centre last night tracking the work that our men and women were doing to try and save as many people as possible here. 

At the same time as they were doing this work an alert went out that there might have been a boat in distress off the coast of East Timor.  We had a dash eight aircraft out to check that. 

The advice that we got when the dash was overhead was that they identified no signs of distress.  It seems like an emergency beacon went off on a fishing vessel, so that has now been resolved.

CHRIS SMITH: A separate vessel entirely?

JASON CLARE: That’s right.


JASON CLARE: Chris, there is another vessel which I’m tracking down the information on.  Indonesia and Australia were talking about a call that was received on Sunday about another vessel that was potentially in distress. 

The latest information I’ve got from Border Protection Command is that that vessel is a vessel that’s arrived at Christmas Island. There is no other boat out there on the high seas at the moment which we believe is in trouble.

CHRIS SMITH: Right, one last line, no need for any politics to be discussed at this time, but with the increased number of boats coming this could happen again in the near future.  How do you prepare for that?

JASON CLARE: Well Chris, you know in the last six months we’ve had over two hundred people die.  We had two hundred people die off the coast of Indonesia in December; we had eleven drown off the coast of Malaysia in February. 

The exact number of people that have died here is still unknown but now seems to be quite large.  My focus is on this rescue effort trying to save as many people as we possibly can.  You make the point quite rightly that today is not the day for politics, I’m sure that will happen over the next few days.

CHRIS SMITH: Okay, thank you very much for your time this afternoon.

JASON CLARE: Thanks Chris.

CHRIS SMITH: All right, the federal Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare.  Whatever way you look at it, whatever politics you want to apply to it, it’s just a terrible tragedy and simply horrific when you think about the younger members of those that are missing and the bodies that have been recovered. 131 873 is the telephone number; it is twenty-nine to one.  Chris Smith in the afternoon.

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