[Transcript: handwritten notation: 'Attachment A']
This paper provides detailed information on the background to SIEV X including information available at the time from a number of sources relating to the vessel's departure, surveillance operations and the position where the vessel may have foundered.
It is appropriate at the outset to address a number of misconceptions and misunderstandings relating to the incident. The discussion will cover the flow of intelligence and its veracity, the nature of the surveillance activity performed by ships and aircraft, and the decision making process relating to that surveillance activity.
The flow of intelligence in relation to possible boat departures from Indonesia is often imprecise and subject to frequent changes. It is not unusual for a vessel's projected departure dates to change on a daily basis over a period of days or even weeks. For example, Rear Admiral Bonser has described that during Operation RELEX, there were 29 departure dates provided for eight of the vessels Coastwatch had an interest in.
Even in the rare event of a confirmed departure date, arrival in Australian waters can vary significantly depending on the nature and speed of the vessel, sea conditions and the number of occasions the vessel breaks its journey.
Some public comment has inaccurately suggested that information on SIEV X of the nature described above was precise. This situation has led to people drawing precise conclusions based on imprecise information.
Lack of SIEV Notation for SIEV X
Some public comment has suggested that SIEV X was formally designated as SIEV 8. This was a mistake in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) provided People Smuggling Taskforce 'notes' and the Select Committee was advised of the mistake by PM&C on 6 June 2002.
While the surveillance operations associated with border protection are accurately described as comprehensive - they do not, as some have assumed, provide minute by minute, 24 hours a day scrutiny of the surveillance areas.
A numer of factors impact on the efficiency of the operations including weather (which impacts both on aircraft and sensor, ie radar and infra-red performance), the veracity of intelligence and the availability of assets - in particular the serviceability of aircraft and aircrew hours.
In relation to the Indonesian coast, ADF assets are prevented from flying closer than 24nm from the baseline established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This operational instruction was in place to provide a buffer of 12nm outside the Indonesian territorial boundary. This buffer was enforced to mitigate the risk of inadvertently infringing Indonesia's sovereign rights. While the aircraft's radar has some ability for electronic detection of a vessel in that restricted area, these detections will be occuring beyond visual range of the aircraft and therefore positive identification of the type of vessel or the nature of its activities is not possible.
As detailed by Commander Australian Theatre, RADM Ritchie, in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Affairs Defence, and Trade Legislation Committee consideration of Budget Estimates on 4 Jun 02, there were two main channels of arrival that we were concerned about: the channel which came from Sumatra, the western end of Java, down through the Sunda Strait and into Christmas Island; and the channel which came, generally through Kupang, Roti and very quickly across the intervening distance down into Ashmore Island.
In relation to SIEV X, and in particular to the day the vessel reportedly foundered (19 October), there has been a suggestion that aerial surveillance was 'pulled back' and that that decision was taken as the result of a direction from outside the normal operational chain. The surveillance operations associated with border protection have always involved a combination of surface vessels and aircraft. In fact normal aerial surveillance was carried out in the surveillance area, including 100% coverage of the northern reaches, on both the 18th and 19th of October 2001. On the 19th of October, the day the vessel is believed to have sunk, an additional flight was flown in the evening to compensate for the unserviceability of HMAS ARUNTA's helicopter. This flight's coverage of the far Northern area was limited by adverse weather. Surveillance on those days did not detect any vessel in distress nor any distress calls on international distress frequencies which are constantly monitored. All contacts detected within the search area were positively identified except for one on the evening of 19 Oct 01 and two on 20 Oct 01. The contact on 19 Oct 01 could not be investigated due to weather and endurance considerations while the contacts on 20 Oct 01 were not investigated due to aircraft endurance limitations.
Details of these sorties are attached.
Seaworthiness of SIEV X
Some public comment has observed that the vessel was so overloaded when it commenced its journey that it was bound to founder and that therefore the ADF should have initiated a search and rescue operation immediately it was assessed as overdue. This infers a Kamikaze intent by the vessel's crew. Aside from the fact that Coastwatch received information that the Quassey vessel was expected to depart, or had departed, Indonesia on four different dates in August, anywhere within a seven-day block in September, and on five separate dates in October, what we do know is that SIEV crews, primarily being fishermen, traditionally display a reasonable level of maritime proficiency. Survivors' accounts refer to them having some form of communication with the mainland, and indicate SIEV X had a number of stops and delays in its journey. This reinforces the view that SIEV crews are free agents who involve themselves in people smuggling as a commercial venture and are not about needlessly risking their lives.
Position where SIEV X foundered
Some public comment has inaccurately suggested that it is possible to say with some precision where SIEV X foundered (eg media 'expert' analysis of figures reportedly provided by the Harbour Master at Sunda Kelapa port in north Jakarta). This is to ignore what is known, namely that both the timing and location of its last landfall is unknown (the vessel is reported to have had a number of stops and delays); that its planned and actual course is unknown; that the impact of tides, currents and weather is unknown, and the impact of its seaworthiness on its speed is unknown. In the absence of positional data from either SIEV 'X' itself or the fishing boats that rescued the survivors, Defence can only speculate as to where the vessel foundered. Defence has no reason to change this assessment. The fact that there are a number of such assessments only goes to underline the uncertainty surrounding the information available on this matter.