Refugee advocates renew call for inquiry as another asylum boat in distress goes missing

July 3, 2012
More asylum boats are foundering on their way to Australians waters.

Another boat, believed to be carrying up to 180 asylum seekers, made a distress call to Australian authorities at about 4.30am (AEST) time this morning. The call said the boat was about 50 nautical miles south of Indonesia and heading to Christmas Island, and its engine had failed and that it was taking on water.

ABC Online said the HMAS Wollongong was searching for the boat, but it had not been found.

The Refugee Action Coalition released the statement below, calling for a full inquiry into Australia's response to the boat that sank on June 21, killing up to 90 people.

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News today that there has been another distress call from an asylum boat has brought fresh calls for a full inquiry into the sinking of the asylum boat on June 21, with the loss of around 90 lives.

“The stark contrast between the two incidents demands an inquiry,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“In this incident, although the boat is only 50 nautical miles south of Indonesia, an Australian navy vessel is expected to provide assistance within three hours of receiving a distress call. The boat that sank with the loss of 90 lives was about the same distance from Indonesia but it took a day and half before Australia rendered assistance.

“It seems even more obvious now that the delay in the response by Australian authorities has cost the lives of 90 asylum seekers.

“Home Affairs Minister said of today’s incident that, 'Whenever you have a call like that, you take it seriously', but the call two weeks ago was not taken seriously.

“We need to know what instructions were given to the navy and other authorities that prevented them from acting to save lives two weeks ago. It is encouraging that HMAS Wollongong seems to have been positioned to provide timely assistance on this latest occasion, but this begs the question of why no such assistance was provided on 21 June.

“We also need to know whether today’s boat was given instruction to turn back to Indonesia as was the case with the boat on June 21. Are the people on the distressed boat going to be brought to Australia or is the HMAS Wollongong going to deliver the boat to Indonesia and the prospects of being indefinite detained there?

“Without a full inquiry into that tragic incident, there can be no confidence that there is now a properly resourced and co-ordinated rescue response plan in place.

“We would expect that such a rescue plan would be the primary concern of a government that says it is concerned about the safety of asylum seekers, but there is no sign that this was even raised at the talks between Prime Minister Gillard and Indonesian President Yudhoyono."

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