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Did 248 asylum seekers drown on their way to Australia?

1 May 20230 comments

A boat load of asylum seekers appears to have disappeared in the Indian Ocean on route to Australia or New Zealand.

A report from Radio New Zealand says a fishing trawler with 248 people aboard has gone missing and is believed sunk.

The report stemmed from a log entry from New Zealand’s Department of Immigration.

The log says: “On January 12, 2019, a 90 foot-long fishing trawler-turned-sailboat left Maliankara near Munambam, India, with 248 Tamil migrants on board hoping to make it to Australia or NZ. The boat or the passengers have not been heard of since”.

Refugee advocate Paul Gilbert said there was a “deafening silence” around the incident.

“250 people appear to have died and no one seems to care. There have been almost no media reports and there have doesn’t seem to have been a search and rescue attempt,” Mr Gilbert said.

Australia first introduced the policy of turning back boats in 2001, following the Tampa incident.

The Tampa incident sparked the introduction of Australia’s interdiction program named ‘Operation Relex’, which lasted until early 2002. It was succeeded by Operation Relex II which ended in July 2006.

On 18 September 2013, following the election of the Coalition government, the new Prime Minister Tony Abbott implemented Operation Sovereign Borders, which described as “a military-led response to combat people smuggling and to protect Australia’s borders”.

The new Labor Government has vowed to continue the practice of boat turn backs.

In June last year, shortly after the last federal election, a boat from Sri Lanka was intercepted and the people aboard taken to Christmas Island. And then deported back to Sri Lanka

“Under international maritime law, boat turn-backs are acts of piracy. There is no right under international law to intercept a boat in international waters and turn it around,” Mr Gilbert said.

Publicly available information on asylum seeker boast includes a record of another “disappeared”, which left Kelera in 2019.

Another report from January 2019 lists “a 90 foot-long fishing trawler-turned-sailboat which left Maliankara near Munambam, India, with 248 Tamil migrants on board hoping to make it to Australia or NZ. The boat or the passengers have not been heard of since”.

A Times of India blog describes this 2019 attempt to sail from Maliankara to Australia.

Blog author K P Saikiran says: “Seasoned sailors were brought in from Sri Lanka for the trip. They avoided using GPS fearing that their movement would be tracked by security agencies. According to sources, all they bothered to carry was a SONAR device which cannot be tracked.

“Though they set sail with a plan to reach their destination in 23 to 25 days, they never reached either New Zealand or Australia, as confirmed by the police by contacting the authorities of both countries.

“The boat must have either sunk in rough seas, or it could have been captured by Sri Lankan authorities, which also would have been fatal to those on the boat.

“In all probability, either way, they would have lost their lives. Blue Corner notices were sent to both Australia and New Zealand through Interpol for all the 248 passengers, but no favourable information has been received. Also, the authorities of those countries have informed that no such boat had reached their coast.”

Read the blog here: To The Antipodes, On A Boat Without GPS (