Interview with David Lipson Sky News Australia – 21 June 2012

Topics: Search and Rescue Operation


DAVID LIPSON: Let’s go for an update on this asylum seeker tragedy with the Home Affairs Minister, Jason Clare. He joins us from our Sydney City studio.

Jason, thanks for your time.

JASON CLARE: Not at all, David.

DAVID LIPSON: What’s the latest?

JASON CLARE: I’ve just been briefed by Border Protection Command. You’ve seen on Sky News this morning that the vessels carrying the survivors have arrived back at Christmas Island.

I can tell you now that the number of survivors has been revised down from one-hundred-and-ten to one-hundred-and-nine. The two individuals that I spoke about this morning that were injured – one is in a critical condition and the other is in a stable condition.

The other important news to report is that our surveillance planes that are over the search and rescue scene at the moment have seen more debris this morning. They’ve also seen life jackets in the water; some floating on their own and some with people with life jackets, and unfortunately seen more bodies in the water this morning.

No good news. I can’t report any information that they’ve seen people that are alive in the water at this time.

DAVID LIPSON: How many bodies have been spotted in the water?

JASON CLARE: I don’t have an exact number. Three people were recovered from the water last night that are deceased. The information I’ve got from Border Protection Command is that they’ve seen deceased people that are in the water. That’s not a good sign, and I think we need to brace ourselves for more bad news.

The advice that we’ve got from people that were on the boat is that there were about two hundred people on this boat. We’ve rescued one-hundred-and-nine people. That means, potentially, many, many more people that have lost their lives.

DAVID LIPSON: The figure – going from one-hundred-and-ten to one-hundred-and-nine – of survivors, what’s that due to? Is that a miscount? Or has someone else lost their life?

JASON CLARE: No. The survivors were put on four different vessels – HMAS Wollongong, as well as three merchant ships which made their way back to Christmas Island. Remember, this all happened as dusk was arriving over the search and rescue area. Once we were able to do a full and proper count back on Christmas Island we were able to confirm that it was, in fact, a hundred-and-nine survivors rather than a hundred-and-ten.

DAVID LIPSON: And they’re all now on Christmas Island?

JASON CLARE: That’s correct.

DAVID LIPSON: And what is the condition – you mentioned the two people who are in a pretty bad condition – one stable, one critical. What are their injuries?

JASON CLARE: I don’t have details on that, David, I should get more details on that over the course of the day. As the survivors talk to Australian officials on Christmas Island we’ll get more information through the course of the day. I don’t have details on the nature of their injuries at the moment.

I should add, David, that there are two more merchant vessels that are now in the search and rescue area, helping HMAS Larrakia, as well as the surveillance plane overhead, to try and find more people that are still alive. HMAS Wollongong is on its way north now, back to that search and rescue area, which is about halfway between Christmas Island and Indonesia.

DAVID LIPSON:  We heard a thirteen-year-old boy was on board that ship. Is there any other – any further indication that there may have been other children or women on board this boat?

JASON CLARE: No, there’s not. The advice that I’ve got from Border Protection Command – and I was briefed by them last night in their operations centre in Canberra – is that there were approximately two hundred people on the boat, all of them men, except for the thirteen-year-old boy that we managed to pluck from the water yesterday. All the other people on the boat, we understand, are males, adult males.

DAVID LIPSON: Now, the boat first made its distress call on Tuesday evening, seventy kilometres off Indonesia. How many distress calls, in total, were received by Australian authorities?

JASON CLARE: There are a number of distress calls. The first call was at 10:00pm on Tuesday night. At that time details were not given of its location, but a call was made by AMSA to Basarnas, the search and rescue authority for Indonesia, to tell them of this call, as well as our Border Protection Command.

A further call was made at 1:30am on Wednesday morning from the boat. Again, saying that they were having problems. They advised at that time that they were thirty-eight nautical miles south of Indonesia, and I’m advised at that time Australian officials told the people on the boat to return north, back to Indonesia.

DAVID LIPSON:  Why were they told to return back to Indonesia?

JASON CLARE: Because the advice that they gave us from the boat was that they were experiencing problems with the boat. The advice back to them from Australian officials was that the safest course of action for them was to turn north and head back to Indonesia, the closest place to get back to land.

DAVID LIPSON:  And was that advice given with full co-operation with Indonesian authorities?

JASON CLARE: That advice was given by Australian authorities. Immediately after that, I understand, that was reported to Indonesian authorities, to Basarnas, the search and rescue authority for Indonesia.

DAVID LIPSON: But did Australia have any assurance that Indonesia would respond, would help this boat?

JASON CLARE: Information was given to Indonesia and the search and rescue authority, Basarnas, and they had been in communication over the course of the last forty-eight hours.

The tragic circumstance of this is that it seems the people on the boat didn’t go north and head back to Indonesia. They kept going south. We’ve seen the boat capsize and the tragic consequences of that, many people losing their lives around about a hundred-and-nine nautical miles south of Indonesia. They’ve continued to travel south after they’ve made that phone call to Australian authorities.

DAVID LIPSON: That’s a real indication of their desperation. The UNHCR has urged Australia to redouble its efforts to provide safer options for asylum seekers other than through – as they describe it – these dangerous and exploitative boat journeys. What’s your response to that?

JASON CLARE: Well, this is dangerous. We see the tragic consequences of it all too often. In December two hundred people lost their lives off the coast of Indonesia. One hundred of those people ended up being washed up on to the beaches of Java, one hundred are still at the bottom of the Java Sea.

Don’t forget February, when eleven people lost their lives, drowned off the coast of Malaysia. What we’re seeing now is that many people have lost their lives halfway between Christmas Island and Indonesia.

The search and rescue effort is massive. It’s continuing right now. That’s where the focus of Government authorities is and that’s where my focus is right now.

DAVID LIPSON:   Also, just finally, what is the Government going to do to try to avoid this sort of tragedy in the future?

JASON CLARE: Well, first things first. I’m focused on making sure that we do everything that we can to possibly save lives. We’re in that critical thirty-six hour window where people could potentially be saved. The water temperature there is twenty-nine degrees. The sea state is rough. It’s sea state three, but the advice I’ve got is that if people are in life jackets or if they’re holding on to debris then potentially lives could be saved. That’s the focus. That’s where it needs to be today.

DAVID LIPSON: Jason Clare, do appreciate your time this afternoon.

JASON CLARE: Thanks, David.


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