Refugees, miners and maritime workers get together

Jeff Carrol, Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) seafarer, was on the Front Puffin when the burnt bodies of Afghan refugees from Ashmore Reef were hauled onboard a year ago.

On June 7, he was with the Tamil refugees from the Oceanic Viking in the union rooms as they received the donations mining and maritime unions pledged to them last year at the height of the controversy.

The meetings of miners, maritime workers and refugees came as the Oceanic Viking, the customs boat at the centre of a diplomatic stand-off with Indonesia last year, rescued another 35 asylum seekers bound for Australia.
Two crew on the ship spotted the boat south-west of Scott Reef. The passengers will be transferred to Christmas Island.

Of the 78 refugees rescued by the Oceanic Viking last year, most have found homes in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Four are still detained on Christmas Island after receiving adverse security assessments by Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

After the rescue, the MUA crew were unable to make contact with refugees onboard, so the unions waited until they could be traced in Australia.

Two of the refugees living in Sydney, who did not wish to be named, came to receive their cheques, thanked the unions for their support, personally presenting Carrol with his Australian Council of Trade Unions certificate, awarded to him and the crew of both the Puffin and the Viking for their humanitarian efforts.

Both refugees told of the long years in exile seeking asylum and their gratitude to the unions for the role they played in helping them reach Australian shores.

One man told of how they put SOS messages in bottles overboard to get the message of their plight to the world. Another described how a mobile phone was smuggled to them onboard the ship.

"I felt very moved and honoured that the two unions would make that commitment — a monetary commitment as well as a moral commitment to help these poor souls out”, said MUA Sydney branch assistant secretary Joe Deakin.

“They've become the brunt of racist bigotry around the world. Governments treat them as a political football and if you left it up to the opposition these poor souls would be drifting out in the ocean forever.

“Seafarers have a rule of the sea that you look after one another”, he said. “Whether they're seafarers or not, if anyone is in trouble we're there to help them. Seafarers are duty bound to help.”

The Sydney presentation followed an earlier function in Melbourne where refugees, their teachers at the Adult Migrant Education Service and representatives of the Tamil community attended a presentation ceremony with Kevin Bracken, MUA branch secretary and three Viking crew members.

The MUA crew of the Front Puffin and Oceanic Viking won special commendation at the Australian Council of Trade Unions “union logies” in April for “bravery, courage and compassion” displayed while assisting the rescue of refugees off Ashmore Reef in April 2009, and Indonesia in October, 2009.

[Abridged from the Maritime Union of Australia website.]