Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Questions surround latest asylum seeker boat disaster

  • 19 December 2011

Reports started coming in on Sunday about another major boat disaster en route to Christmas Island. Questions surround this latest tragedy, ten years after SIEV X and one year after the SIEV 221 shipwreck. 

BBC News Asia reported the sinking location as about 90km out to sea. ABC News gave the same location. BBC reported at least 250 people were on board. Some reports put the number as high as 380.

The vessel appeared to have been carrying more than twice its capacity. It 'sank Saturday evening and the national search and rescue team [BASARNAS] has already moved out to sea to start the search', rescue team member Brian Gauthier told Indonesian news agency Antara. Gauthier's position is unstated: he may be an Australian Maritime Safety Authority secondment to BASARNAS (AMSA has extensive rescue at sea training-type cooperation underway).

Extreme weather caused reduced visibility. An Afghan survivor told Antara the ship rocked violently, triggering panic among the tightly packed passengers. This made the boat even more unstable and it sank. He and others clung to wreckage and were rescued by local fishermen. He estimated more than 40 children were on the boat.

This account recalls the details of SIEV X: a grossly overloaded, top-heavy boat capsizes after rocking violently in extreme weather; a few survivors are later rescued by local fishermen.

ABC News and Antara sources offer more detail as to the location of these events. Gauthier told Antara some of the rescued are in Prigi in eastern Java, around 30km from where the boat sank. Some survivors are in Trenggalek, a town about 20km further inland. Both places are around 200km east of Jogyakarta, in the Java southern coastal region (and about 350km east of Cilicap, where another sinking took place a few weeks ago).

Antara says the sinking location was estimated to be 'within 20-30 miles from the boundary waters Prigi Coast'. This would seem to locate the sinking in international waters outside the Indonesian contiguous zone, about 30km or more south of Prigi Beach.

Christmas Island — about 700km away in a WSW direction — was the most likely destination from this area. But this is an unusually long route, about twice as long as the direct route south from the Sunda Strait/Panaitan Island area. If the boat started