SAR Whistleblower On SIEVX|
7 August 2002
Any rational person walking down a street and noticing a house on fire will call
the fire brigade, at the very least. This is not rocket science; it is a
simple deductive process where a person notices an emergency situation and
deduces what should be done:
house on fire + people are often in houses + fire hurts or kills people + fire
brigades put out fires and save people = ring 000.
IN the case of SIEVX, however, this did not happen. The deductive process went
boat in danger of sinking + boat dangerously overloaded + boat not there any
more = not my responsibility, don't understand, have another cup of tea.
A Search And Rescue Expert has written the following observations and questions in regard to SIEVX.
He is Mr Ken McLeod, who before his 'retirement' in 1996, had worked in Search
And Rescue (SAR) for 24 years, was editor of the Australian National Search And
Rescue Manual, Secretary of the Australian National SAR Conference, and
Vice-Chairman of a United Nations Committee on Search And Rescue. He
says that with the government's refusal to fully co-operate with the Senate,
we will never get to the truth until there is a Royal Commission...
It should be noted that Mr McLeod's knowledge of the SIEVX Affair is based on a reading of the media coverage - he has not read the transcript of the Inquiry and is writing solely from an SAR perspective.
SOME ISSUES THAT NEED TO BE ADDRESSED
by Ken McLeod
1. EPIRBS AND THE COSPAS-SARSAT EMERGENCY SATELLITE SYSTEM
The Senate was advised by AUSAR that AUSAR received no alerts from or about
SIEV X. That does not mean that COSPAS-SARSAT and AUSAR did not receive
information that SIEV X's EPIRB had been activated.
Let's start with what we do know:
1.1. Indonesia has a very large program of fitting every Indonesian, vessel,
yes every one, with an EPIRB.
1.2. An Australian government agency, the People Smuggling Task force,
knew SIEV X was missing or in trouble.
1.3. AUSAR claim that they were not informed by any Australian government
agency that SIEV X was missing or in trouble.
1.4. If AUSAR had been able to put the two critical pieces of information
together, (that a vessel was suspected to be in trouble and that, by referring
to the COSPAS-SARSAT map display, an EPIRB had been detected in the relevant
area), AUSAR would have come to the obvious conclusion and acted, and perhaps
rescued those people.
Now for what we are not sure of...
1.5. While it's reasonable to assume that there should have been an EPIRB on
SIEV X, with Indonesia being the state of disorganisation that it is, there is
no absolute assurance that there was an EPIRB on board SIEV X, and if there was,
that someone knew how to activate it.
1.6. If that EPIRB was activated, it's not guaranteed that COSPAS-SARSAT will
detect it, particularly if it is a 121.5 MHz version and if it's some distance
from the satellite ground station, the Local user Terminal, LUT.
AUSAR should be asked to provide all information that their COSPAS-SARSAT
terminals received on activated EPIRBs in the area during the time in question.
Investigators should not be put off with replies about COSPAS-SARSAT alerts, but
go for all information.
2. THE SO-CALLED TASK FORCE
It's clear that the so-called Task Force, was a political
instrument, and questions must be asked as to what thought was given to
emergency response in its setting up. So,
2.1. Which government agencies were represented on the task force?
2.2. Who were the representatives?
2.3. What was each person's roles and responsibilities?
2.4. What was each person's experience and qualifications?
2.5. Who had any operational experience?
2.5 What were the Task Force's formal Terms Of Reference?
2.6. What particular paragraphs addressed the need for emergency response?
2.7. What standing arrangements were created at the implementation of the Task
Force to respond to any life-threatening emergency that arose during the life of
the Task Force?
2.8. What emergency response authorities were permanently included in the Task
3. THE SINKING OF SIEV X
3.1. What was done in response to intelligence received that SIEV X was
overcrowded and in danger of sinking?
3.2. Which emergency response authorities were warned that SIEV X was
overcrowded and in danger of sinking?
3.2 a. Particularly, was AUSAR warned that SIEV X was overcrowded and in
danger of sinking?
3.3. When it became apparent that SIEV X was missing, or at least did not
appear in the place and the time it was expected, what was done to ascertain
that the vessel was safe?
3.2.b. Particularly, was the Indonesian Search And Rescue Agency, BASARNAS,
warned that SIEV X X was overcrowded and in danger of sinking?
4. THE WEATHER AT THE TIME.
The government claimed that aerial patrols were not conducted in the North West sector on the afternoon of the
sinking due to the weather.
Mr McLeod finds that hard to believe, and weather reports, satellite pics, and
forecasts for the area should be obtained from the Bureau of Meteorology. The
BoM will have actual and forecast weather for the time, including Cocos and
Christmas Islands aviation Terminal Area Forecasts (TAFs), and aviation area
forecasts that are provided for each surveillance flight, and has a good data
archival and retrieval system.
Mr McLeod also finds that excuse rather thin.
4.1. The RAAF's P3 Orion aircraft were built and equipped to detect Soviet
submarines, and have excellent radar systems which of course see through almost
any weather and can identify most vessel types from their radar signature, so
weather, apart from severe thunderstorms, is not an issue.
4.2. We doubt that there were severe thunderstorms in the area as this was some
months before the build-up and arrival of the Monsoon.
We suspect that this tragedy came about because:
5.1. Unscrupulous people -smugglers placed their customers at risk.
5.2. Indonesian officials, we know at a junior level, and probably at a very
senior level, participated in the scheme for profit and to embarrass Australia.
Indonesian government and/or military were actively involved, perhaps even led this
enterprise, to embarrass Australia into rescuing several hundred refugees, (or
failing to rescue them), and their objective was not entirely achieved because
the vessel sank too soon, in the Indonesian Search And Rescue Region and the
People Smuggling Task Force was too stupid to grasp what was
5.3. The Australian Task Force was a political instrument, and had no
operational expertise or focus.
5.4. The exclusion of operational expertise was deliberate.
5.5. As a consequence, the Task Force:
5. 5.1. - had no arrangements in place to ensure that life-threatening
emergencies were responded to;
5.5.2. - had no arrangements in place to forward significant information to
relevant emergency response authorities, indeed tended
to hoard information;
5. 5.3. - had no way of understanding what information was significant;
5.5.4. - focused instead on political and bigoted considerations.
5.5.6. When it appeared that a tragedy may have occurred, or indeed may still
be occurring, the Task Force did not understand that they were the only people
who had the three vital pieces of information ('boat in danger of sinking + boat
dangerously overloaded + boat not there any more'), that was needed to
implement a search and rescue action, and locked themselves into a confused
bureaucratic 'seek more information, it's got nothing to do with me' psychology,
rather than implement an active response.
5.5.7. AUSAR and the Indonesia Search And Rescue agency, BASARNAS, or the
operational arms of the ADF, the only organisations that could have added 1 + 1
+ 1 together, ie responded to the information,
a.. that SIEV X was dangerously overcrowded,
b.. that SIEV X was in danger of sinking,
c.. that SIEV X was missing;
were out of the loop.
5.8. We believe that the root cause of all of the above was a callous
indifference, implemented as part of the political process, leading to the
development of a 'group think' that Australia had no moral obligation to prepare
for or respond to any emergency. So we suspect that this tragedy arose because
of incompetence and bigotry.
NOT THE FIRST, AND WE SUSPECT, NOT THE LAST
Something is dreadfully wrong with Australia's SAR arrangements. SIEV X was not
the first Commonwealth SAR cockup, and unless lessons are learned and the
required changes made, this will not be the last. Consider:
+See this webpage for a description of how the Australian Maritime Safety
Authority (AMSA) ignored a distress signal and allowed a man to die, then
covered it up by altering documents before sending them to the Coroner,
withheld other documents from him, and got rid of the public servant who
refused to be part of the coverup. This website contains the altered documents,
both the 'before' and 'after' versions, for downloading.
+ See the Bureau of Air Safety's report on the near- collision of two search
aircraft, and how the Bureau blasts AMSA's incompetence.
+See this page (in MS Word format) where AMSA confirms that on 15 April 2001,
Tasmania Police sought assistance from AMSA for a search of the greater Bass
Strait area, which was beyond the resources of Tasmania Police Search and
Rescue. AMSA declined to conduct a search, and 3 men were left to drift
around before dying of exposure.
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