This evil people smuggler let 353 men, women and children drown.
Australian police have evidence to convict him. So why has he
been freed from jail?
By TONY KEVIN
The Sunday Telegraph
5 January 2003
Before dawn on October 18, 2001, armed Indonesian police herded hundreds of frightened men, women and children into launches, which ferried them to a small 19m boat moored in a bay near Bandar Lampung, Sumatra.
Fully laden, the boat on which they were supposed to travel to Christmas Island rode barely above water.
In all, 421 asylum-seekers were crammed into what later became known as SIEV X -- a death boat, intended to sink and to kill; a final deterrent against people-smuggling.
The voyage organiser, Abu Quessay, pistol-whipped terrified passengers into the launches. He lied, telling them that this was just a transit boat, that they would be transferred to a larger, safer boat.
Quessay was so anxious to load up this voyage that he offered free places to asylum-seekers who had lost their savings on his previous unsuccessful voyages. His car led a convoy of four buses for 300km, from Cisarua, across western Java and on to the Java- Sumatra car ferry, without hindrance.
Asylum-seekers knew Quessay was ruthless and greedy, but he was protected by Indonesian police. While police harassed other people-smugglers out of business, Quessay seemed curiously immune.
We know now that Quessay was never a real people-smuggler. He was a 'sting' operative, whose activities were designed to discredit and ultimately destroy the people-smuggling industry. His task was to offer false hope on voyages intended to fail. The sinking of SIEV X was his ultimate sting -- the tragedy that would hit world headlines and ensure Prime Minister John Howard's re-election as a leader ready to deter people-smugglers and protect Australia's borders, whatever the cost in human lives. SIEV X sank 30 hours into its doomed voyage, in international waters some 50-65 nautical miles south of Java. It was planned to sink much earlier, in Sunda Strait, where frequent shipping might have saved more people.
When the engines failed, it began to rock.
The weakened hull sprung a major leak. With pumps inoperative, it capsized and quickly broke up. The boat carried only 70, ineffective, life jackets. A total of 353 lives were lost. In September 2000, Australian and Indonesian police forces signed a secret protocol to disrupt people-smuggling. Under it, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) hand-picked 20 Indonesian senior police officers in five police districts to form four-man teams termed 'special intelligence units'.
The AFP generously funded, equipped and trained these units in techniques for disrupting people-smuggling. They became the nuclei of undercover disruption networks within the Indonesian police force -- even though people-smuggling is not a crime in Indonesia.
The AFP also set up undercover agents in phoney shipping companies. Their tasks were to collect intelligence and build market share in the people-smuggling industry.
In this way, the AFP created for Indonesian police a flexible instrument that could influence when boats came.
Kevin Enniss was an undercover sting operative, in regular working contact with AFP liaison officers in our Jakarta Embassy. To the AFP's great chagrin, Enniss was accidentally exposed by Channel 9's Sunday program during 2002.
Embarrassingly, SIEV X sank well inside the Australian Defence Force's declared border-protection military surveillance zone. The Australian Government has sought to deny this, but the evidence is overwhelming.
So, why didn't Australia's defence forces detect the emergency? The evidence from the Senate 'children overboard' committee is inconclusive -- most key data was blacked out.
The AFP and the Department of Immigration refused to reveal to committee hearings any of their intensive earlier intelligence on Abu Quessay (40 reports since September 1, 2001) and SIEV X. The AFP claimed that there were plans to extradite Quessay to Australia on homicide-related charges. However, four months later, the AFP reported that it lacked legal basis for such an extradition.
On December 10-11, a perturbed Senate passed two motions demanding real action against Quessay and an independent judicial inquiry into the AFP's possible involvement in the disruption program.
Under pressure, the AFP finally issued a people-smuggling warrant for Quessay's arrest, based on SIEV X survivor testimonies. But the AFP knew this warrant was unenforceable in Indonesia.
Deliberately endangering the lives of passengers on an unseaworthy ship is a serious crime in both countries. Why was Quessay never charged with this?
The evidence was all there, in the AFP's people-smuggling warrant dossier and earlier intelligence.
Yet Quessay sat in an Indonesian prison for six months on minor passport offences. The AFP did nothing to seek his extradition, nor to encourage an Indonesian prosecution. Last week, Quessay walked free, to be deported to his native Egypt.
Australian Federal Police minister Senator Chris Ellison vows that the AFP will pursue Quessay to the ends of the earth. But more probably, Quessay will simply disappear on his way to Egypt. In my view, the AFP does not want Quessay to face trial in Indonesia or Australia. He might reveal much about the AFP's involvement in the people-smuggling disruption program in Indonesia, and how it might have contributed to the deaths of 353 people, including 142 women and 146 children.
There is no doubt that Quessay and his Indonesian police accomplices deliberately overloaded and sabotaged SIEV X to make it sink, with major loss of life. I believe the motive was deterrence.
SIEV X probably carried a tracking device which enabled Indonesian police patrol boats to locate the wreckage six hours after the sinking, and thus direct fishing boats to rescue 44 remaining survivors the next day. The patrol boats rescued nobody.
It is clearer and clearer, as evidence builds, that the sinking of SIEV X was a huge crime against humanity.
The horrifying scale of death exceeds that of the Bali bombing. The SIEV X victims were our fellow human beings, too. Quessay and his accomplices should be brought to account for such a monstrous crime.
Our response to this tragedy has stained our honour as Australians and betrayed our nation's deepest value -- respect for human life.
Tony Kevin is a former Australian Ambassador to Cambodia. He is currently Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University's Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies.