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An orange lifeboat washed up on the Indonesian coast

Now we send them back in orange lifeboats

Abbott's new asylum seeker war toys are orange lifeboats: closed ocean pods to force everyone back to Indonesia

The complete report on Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison's ruthless and top-secret 'pushing-back' policy of asylum-seeker boats

There is always a problem with policies of 'punishment' in a populist political environment such as Australian politics: once it starts, subsequent governments need to 'ramp it up' in their vein pursuit to seek re-election.

Fact is, that Australia's draconian policies of punishing asylum seekers - and their journey organisers - for arriving 'uninvited', first began under the government of Malcolm Fraser during 1977-78. Not a single government or Prime Minister since Fraser has ever retreated in any significant way from this punitive approach. In terms of the treatment of maritime asylum seekers, Australia now firmly resides in the Pariah-State league of nations.

About these pages

Tony Abbott was Australia's 28th Prime Minister for exactly two years, from 18 Sept 2013 to 15 Sept 2015.

Before his 'rise to the top', Abbott was a ruthless and aggressive opposition leader, who attempted to destroy whatever he could during the period of the Prime Ministerial administrations of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. And, if you elect a streetfighter and brutal pugilist as your Prime Minister, then you can expect policies and strategies that will be in character with that brutal attitude.

As Prime Minister, Tony Abbott maintained his spirit of super-aggressive conservatism. The already shocking treatment of asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat (under Kevin Rudd's second administration and Julia Gillard's governance, hardline offshore detention camps had been re-established on Nauru and Manus Island) descended further into secret policies of brutally sending people back on their own boats or on specially supplied one-way vessels.

Abbott was supported in his brutal policies by Scott Morrison, who as Immigration Minister was happy to practice a policy of extreme disdain for reporters: on several occasions Morrison happily walked out from formally organisated press-conferences when he didn't like the questions and scrutiny of openness and accountability. Under Scott Morrison, Australia's Migration Act was almost entirely destroyed: all affirmations of the rights of asylum seekers that applied in International Law under the United Nations Refugee Convention were stripped from the Act.

Within months of coming to power, government apparatchiks 'leaked' the news that the government was considering a policy of "pushing the boats back" or "turning boats around" to Indonesia. Just two weeks later, reporters discovered abandoned boats on Indonesian shores. Abbott and Morrison didn't give a damn about the serious diplomatic fall-out with Indonesia, they didn't give a damn about the rights of asylum seekers under International Law, they didn't give a damn about their own humanity, they didn't give a damn about Australian decency, and they didn't give a damn about the implications for Australia as a country with international legal obligations.

There are three pages in this section. The reports and opinion pages contained in these pages cover the period from January to June 2014.

[ first page ] [ second page ] [ third page ]


Related pages

22 October 2017: Go Back to Where You Came From (2) - Tony Abbott's brutal push-back strategy of asylum boats. The third of three pages, comprising our complete report on Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison's ruthless and top-secret 'pushing-back' policy of asylum-seeker boats.

22 October 2017: Go Back to Where You Came From (1) - Tony Abbott's brutal push-back strategy of asylum boats. The second one of three pages, comprising our complete report on Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison's ruthless and top-secret 'pushing-back' policy of asylum-seeker boats.

25 February 2014: Burnt hands and the ABC's burnt fingers - When allegations of Navy abuse during asylum seeker interdictions surfaced in ABC reports, it became Tony Abbott's convenient culture war trigger. Ever since the 2013 election, the pack of conservative wolves have been quietly howling and trampling at the bit to start degrading the ABC on behalf of the commercial media hounds bleating about ABC bias.

1 October 2013: Abbott's Liberals and the 'illegal boats' election campaign - Tony Abbott's aggressive 'Labor's illegal boats' campaign was a brazen attempt to redefine asylum seekers as 'illegals' throughout his time in opposition - but activists successfully undermined his 'flagship' in Perth.

Some photos

As reported by Guardian Australia, these fake, Australian-owned, Indonesian fishing boats "look-alikes" were built in Taiwan and Malaysia, shipped to Australia, and used by the Abbott government to forcibly send apprehended asylum seekers and their voyage organisers back to Indonesia.

This secret practice may have been fully maintained also during the post-Abbott government administrations. But we do not know this, because our governments are keeping this policy a top-secret. Australian taxpayers pay for these boats and this policy, but we're not allowed to know whether this policy even exists or not.

Click on the thumbnails to open a large size photo in a new browser window.

fake fishing boat 1
fake fishing boat 2
fake fishing boat 3
David Pope cartoon
five fake fishing boats
Michael Leunig cartoon

Quick links:

Click the links below to jump down to the articles and items on this page with the same title.

Government mulls lifeboats plan for intercepted asylum seekers

The Age
January 7, 2014 - 5:43PM
David Wroe

Asylum seekers intercepted on unseaworthy boats could be sent back to Indonesia on large, engine-powered lifeboats, in an escalation of the Abbott government's turn-back policy.

Fairfax Media has learnt the government is buying up to 16 hard-hulled lifeboats similar to those carried by cruiseships and oil tankers to which asylum seekers can be transferred and returned to Indonesia if their own vessels are unseaworthy.

The revelations came as Indonesian police said Australia had turned back two asylum-seeker boats in recent weeks, prompting Jakarta to once again voice its condemnation of the policy.

Defence sources said the purchase of lifeboats was designed to thwart the tactic of using rickety fishing vessels and sabotaging them at sea, leaving Australian border protection authorities no choice but to rescue them.

When a boat is intercepted, the asylum-seekers could be transferred on to the lifeboats close to Indonesian waters with enough fuel and supplies to reach land.

The high-visibility, engine-powered lifeboats, which have roofs, can carry dozens of passengers, and food and water for at least a week.

In a stand-off at sea in November, Indonesia refused to take back an asylum-seeker vessel on the grounds that it was unseaworthy.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison refused to confirm or deny the purchase of the lifeboats, citing the need to "protect the security of our operations".

Labor's acting immigration spokesman Mark Dreyfus described the lack of government information about the Coalition's boats policy as ''shameful''.

''I can't make anything of the [lifeboats] idea because Australians are being left to guess at what the Australian government's doing in our name,'' he told ABC Radio on Wednesday.

''That is not acceptable.''Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the lifeboat reports showed the government's asylum-seeker policy had failed.

''I think this just shows what tatters Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott's policy is in,'' Senator Hanson-Young told ABC Radio.

''First we heard they were going to stop the boats, then they said we'll buy back the boats, now they're going to start giving away boats.''

The Abbott government also maintained its silence over claims that Australia had turned back at least one asylum-seeker boat to Indonesia in recent weeks, in a move that could increase tensions.

A Defence source confirmed to Fairfax Media reports in the Indonesian press that a boat had been turned back. The source said the frigate HMAS Stuart carried out the turn-back in the past week.

The asylum seekers aboard the boat were given life jackets and communications equipment.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, while refusing to comment on any turn-backs, repeated Jakarta's general condemnation of the policy on Tuesday.

"The policy itself, the so-called tow-back (policy) let me put it once more on the record: our rejection of such policy is because it's not a conducive and comprehensive solution to the issue," he said.

Indonesian water police told Fairfax Media that two boats had been turned back, one on Monday and one on December 19. The sources said a boat turned back on Monday carried 45 passengers, 36 male and nine female, mostly from Africa though with several from the Middle East. Another boat turned back just before Christmas carried 48 asylum seekers from Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea and Iran.

Both were found at Rote Island, Indonesia's southernmost point.

Rote police chief Hidayat told Fairfax Media: "The asylum seekers' boat was stranded near a small village called Lengu Tepu, around 4am yesterday ... They were rescued by the locals, because the boat engines were dead. The boat now is a wreckage, near some reefs."

Dr Natalegawa said he believed relations between Australia and Indonesia would return to normal following stoushes over asylum seekers and revelations that Australian spies targeted the phones of senior Indonesian leaders.

with Karuni Rompies, Amilia Rosa, Judith Ireland, AAP

www.theage.com.au/.../government-mulls-lifeboats-...-asylum-seekers-20140107-30f8v.html

Lifeboat plan to ship asylum seekers back to Indonesia: reports

Claims emerge the Coalition government plans to buy 16 hard-hulled vessels with a roof and packed with a week of supplies

Helen Davidson, agencies
theguardian.com
Tuesday 7 January 2014 17.32 EST

The federal government is reportedly planning to buy lifeboats to send asylum seekers back to Indonesia if their own vessel is unseaworthy, in a new iteration of their "turn back the boats" policy.

The Coalition government is purchasing 16 lifeboats, similar to those found on oil tankers and cruise ships, Fairfax media reports. Asylum seekers intercepted by Australian authorities could be transferred into a lifeboat if their own vessel is deemed unsafe, and sent back towards Indonesian waters.

The lifeboats are hard-hulled vessels with a roof, capacity for dozens of passengers and a week's worth of supplies.

There are reports from Indonesia that Australian authorities have turned asylum-seeker vessels back to Indonesian waters in the past month. ABC reported two boats were found run aground on the island of Rote in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara region.

At least one turnback was confirmed by a defence source to be conducted by HMAS Stuart, Fairfax media reported on Wednesday.

The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, has refused to confirm or deny the reports of the lifeboat purchase, giving Guardian Australia the oft-used reason that the government does not comment on operational matters.

"People smugglers have used official commentary on such matters to make dangerous assumptions about our maritime operations, which puts people at risk," he said.

"The government's policy of no public comment on operational matters is based on the advice of border protection agency and operational leaders to protect the security of our operations and to ensure that they can be conducted with maximum safety and effectiveness for all involved."

Labor's acting immigration spokesman, Mark Dreyfus, told ABC Radio Australians are being left to guess what is being done in their name by the government.

"The minister and the prime minister are not wanting to explain to Australians what's going on because that would make clear just how disastrous the impact this is having on our relationship with Indonesia," he said.

"[Australians] shouldn't have to read about it in the Jakarta Post or to be told by Indonesian authorities what our government and what our navy is being asked to do."

The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said reports the government was buying the lifeboats showed its asylum-seeker policy had failed.

"I think this just shows what tatters Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott's policy is in," Hanson-Young told ABC Radio on Wednesday. "First we heard they were going to stop the boats, then they said we'll buy back the boats, now they're going to start giving away boats.

"The fact is this government is obsessed with doing everything they can to push refugees out of sight, out of mind rather then helping them."

She said the Abbott government was "more concerned about their media strategy than they are about refugees". "The boats are coming they're just simply being hidden, they're not being spoken about," the senator said.

www.theguardian.com/.../lifeboat-plan-to-ship-asylum-seekers-back-to-indonesia-reports

Government considers buying turn-back lifeboats

Government considers buying lifeboats to ferry asylum seekers back to Indonesia: report

ABC News Online
First posted Wed 8 Jan 2014, 6:06am AEDT
Updated Wed 8 Jan 2014, 8:02am AEDT

The Federal Government is reportedly set to buy lifeboats which will be used to return asylum seekers to Indonesia if they are intercepted on unseaworthy boats.

Fairfax media and the West Australian newspaper are reporting that the Government is purchasing 16 large, engine-powered lifeboats to ferry asylum seekers back to Indonesia.

The news follows revelations yesterday that the Australian Navy recently turned or "pushed" back two asylum seeker boats to Indonesia.

The Fairfax report cites Defence sources, who say the lifeboats would counter the people smugglers' tactic of using old fishing vessels and sabotaging them in order to force Australian authorities to rescue them.

The report says the high-visibility lifeboats could carry dozens of passengers along with food and water for at least a week.

The Government has refused to comment, with a spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison saying they do not comment on "operational matters".

Labor, Greens slam plan

Labor's acting immigration spokesman Mark Dreyfus has told AM the Government needs to explain what is happening.

"We are being left to guess what our Navy is being asked to do - that is not acceptable," he said.

The Greens have ridiculed the plan, with Senator Sarah Hanson-Young saying the Coalition's border protection policy is in tatters.

"First we heard they were going to stop the boats, then they said we'll buy back the boats, now they're going to start giving away boats," she said.

Yesterday Indonesia's foreign minister Marty Natalegawa reiterated his country's opposition to the policy of turning back asylum seeker boats to Indonesia.

"Let me just once again put on record our rejection of policies that resemble the pushing back the boats," he said.

Mr Natalegawa also revealed that he is in almost daily contact with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, in an effort to resolve diplomatic tensions in the wake of the spying scandal.

The revelations that Australia spied on Indonesia's president and inner circle led to the suspension of bilateral cooperation on asylum seekers late last year.

Mr Natalegawa maintains that it will take time to restore the trust that was lost over the spying scandal.

A group of 47 asylum seekers have told Indonesian authorities they were intercepted on December 13 by the Australian Navy and "pushed" back to Indonesian waters.

On December 19 they were found on Rote Island, after running out of fuel and running aground.

A second boat carrying 45 asylum seekers has been found on the same island and the local police chief says they too were pushed back by the Navy.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison refused to comment on those reports for "national security reasons".

"Australia respects Indonesia's territorial sovereignty and will continue to do so, just as Indonesia has stated it respects Australia's territorial sovereignty," he said.

"It is not the policy or practice of the Australian Government to violate Indonesian territorial sovereignty. Any suggestion to the contrary is false."

The Opposition and the Greens are calling for an explanation.

www.abc.net.au/.../government-considers-plan-to-buy-lifeboats-to-ferry-asylum-seek/5189722

Labor demands answers over lifeboat turn-back plan

Labor blasts 'Stalinist' silence over reports Government will buy lifeboats to send asylum seekers back to Indonesia

ABC News Online
First posted Wed 8 Jan 2014, 6:06am AEDT
Updated Wed 8 Jan 2014, 1:12pm AEDT

The Federal Government has been accused of running a "Stalinist" and "North Korean"-style media blackout after refusing to comment on reports Australia will buy 16 lifeboats to ferry asylum seekers back to Indonesia.

Fairfax media and the West Australian newspaper say the Government is in the process of buying the large, engine-powered lifeboats to return asylum seekers to Indonesia if they are intercepted on unseaworthy boats.

The news follows revelations yesterday that the Australian Navy recently turned or "pushed" back two asylum seeker boats to Indonesia.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is refusing to confirm or deny the story, saying the Government will not comment on "operational" matters.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese says it is time the Government told the public what is happening.

"This is not North Korea. This is not a Stalinist regime," he said.

Labor's acting immigration spokesman Mark Dreyfus also demanded answers.

"We are being left to guess what our Navy is being asked to do - that is not acceptable," he told AM.

"The only justification for this cover-up is a political one where the Minister and the Prime Minister are not wanting to explain to Australians what's going on because that would make clear just how disastrous the impact this has had on our relationship with Indonesia."

The Greens have ridiculed the plan, with Senator Sarah Hanson-Young saying it is a ludicrous idea and that the Coalition's border protection policy is in tatters.

"It's dangerous and of course it not just flies in the face of everything they promised before the election but also is in complete disregard to the lives of our brave men and women who have to conduct these operations," she said.

"First we heard they were going to stop the boats, then they said we'll buy back the boats, now they're going to start giving away boats."

The Fairfax report cites Defence sources, who say the lifeboats would counter the people smugglers' tactic of using old fishing vessels and sabotaging them in order to force Australian authorities to rescue them.

The report says the high-visibility lifeboats could carry dozens of passengers along with food and water for at least a week.

Indonesia still opposed to turn-backs

Yesterday Indonesia's foreign minister Marty Natalegawa reiterated his country's opposition to the policy of turning back asylum seeker boats to Indonesia.

"Let me just once again put on record our rejection of policies that resemble the pushing back the boats," he said.

Mr Natalegawa also revealed that he is in almost daily contact with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, in an effort to resolve diplomatic tensions in the wake of the spying scandal.

The revelations that Australia spied on Indonesia's president and inner circle led to the suspension of bilateral cooperation on asylum seekers late last year.

Mr Natalegawa maintains that it will take time to restore the trust that was lost over the spying scandal.

Asylum seekers found on remote island

Over the weekend reports emerged that a group of 47 asylum seekers told Indonesian authorities they were intercepted on December 13 by the Australian Navy and "pushed" back to Indonesian waters.

On December 19 they were found on Rote Island, after running out of fuel and running aground.

A second boat carrying 45 asylum seekers has been found on the same island and the local police chief says they too were pushed back by the Australian Navy.

Mr Morrison refused to comment on those reports for "national security reasons".

"Australia respects Indonesia's territorial sovereignty and will continue to do so, just as Indonesia has stated it respects Australia's territorial sovereignty," he said.

"It is not the policy or practice of the Australian Government to violate Indonesian territorial sovereignty. Any suggestion to the contrary is false."

www.abc.net.au/.../government-considers-plan-to-buy-lifeboats-to-ferry-asylum-seek/5189722

Supplying lifeboats to asylum seekers may rile Indonesia, Australia warned

International refugee law researcher says lifeboats plan has potential to exacerbate tensions between the two countries

Daniel Hurst and Helen Davidson
theguardian.com
Wednesday 8 January 2014 01.18 EST

The Australian government's plan to send asylum seekers back towards Indonesia in supplied lifeboats has the potential to exacerbate tensions between the two countries, an international refugee law researcher has warned.

Dr Sara Davies, a senior research fellow with Griffith University's Griffith Asia Institute, said the reported proposal would have "massive implications" in the region and raised questions about Australia's obligations to asylum seekers who found themselves in distress after being "aided and abetted" to turn around.

The warning came as Labor and the Greens intensified their criticism of the Abbott government for cloaking its asylum seeker operations in secrecy, with the opposition frontbencher Anthony Albanese saying North Korea-style secrecy was unacceptable.

The government is buying 16 large hard-hulled lifeboats, similar to those found on oil tankers and cruise ships, to be used to send asylum seekers back towards Indonesia if their own vessel is unseaworthy, according to Fairfax Media reports published on Wednesday.

The plan appears to be a response to long-running concerns about the risk posed by the sabotage of unsafe fishing boats. The Coalition which campaigned on a promise to turn boats back to Indonesia where safe to do so was repeatedly warned this would be dangerous because crew members would scuttle their vessels.

Asylum seekers intercepted by Australian authorities could be transferred to a high-visibility lifeboat, close to Indonesian waters, if their own vessel was deemed unsafe, Fairfax reported, citing multiple Defence Department sources. The engine-powered lifeboats have roofs and capacity for dozens of passengers and would contain a week's worth of supplies.

The immigration minister, Scott Morrison, has not disputed the claims, saying only that the government's policy was to offer no comment on operational matters.

Neil James, of the Australian Defence Association, said the purchase of lifeboats was a clever idea and would send a message to Indonesian authorities to stop turning a blind eye to the regular departure from the country of unseaworthy vessels.

"If they [asylum seekers] are put in the vessels in international waters and directed back towards Indonesian waters, Indonesian sovereignty isn't being violated," he said.

But Davies said the reported plan raised numerous questions and Australia would appear to be assuming some responsibility for the people it was assisting to return towards Indonesia. She said it was possible people in the lifeboats who may not have maritime skills could get into distress again.

"If we've provided people with a vessel that's Australian-flagged if it comes into distress we have a level of responsibility and culpability."

Davies drew parallels with Italy's actions in returning asylum seekers to Libya, but noted that that practice occurred as a result of an agreement between the two countries.

Due to the absence of detail about the Australian plan she was not able to comment extensively on the legal aspects, but said it would be difficult on a political and diplomatic level.

"I don't know if it's necessarily illegal under international maritime law but it's a continued breach of our obligations under the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees."

Davies said the reported proposal posed risks for the Australia-Indonesia relationship, "especially if Indonesia hasn't been consulted regarding this purchase" and the planned use. "Even if Indonesia has been consulted I cannot envisage Indonesia being comfortable unless there is a bigger deal that we're not privy to," she said.

The latest proposal follows reports Australia had turned back one or two asylum seeker boats towards Indonesia since December, in line with a key plank of Abbott's "stop the boats" election policy.

The Indonesian foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, refused to comment on the specific incidents when asked about them on Tuesday. "But as a policy, I shall repeat this once again: Indonesia rejects and is against the policy of boat turnbacks because it's not a solution," he told reporters in Jakarta, speaking in Indonesian.

Morrison said the government would "continue to take all steps necessary to stop the boats consistent with our commitments to the Australian people and to protect safety of life at sea". He said the government would work with its partners in the region "wherever possible" to achieve this.

But Morrison has refused to confirm or deny the reports of the lifeboat purchase, saying people smugglers had previously used official commentary on such matters "to make dangerous assumptions about our maritime operations".

"The government's policy of no public comment on operational matters is based on the advice of border protection agency and operational leaders to protect the security of our operations and to ensure that they can be conducted with maximum safety and effectiveness for all involved," he said.

Albanese said the government must be more open about its asylum-seeker operations because a democratic country required its political leaders to be transparent and accountable.

"This is not North Korea; this is not a Stalinist regime. The government needs to get its act together and tell the Australian people what's going on because it's being done, after all, in the Australian people's name," he said.

The Greens' spokeswoman on immigration, Sarah Hanson-Young, said the government was determined to push asylum seekers out of sight and was more interested in a secretive media strategy than the plight of refugees.

Hanson-Young branded the lifeboat plan as an illegal, ludicrous and dangerous idea that would further strain Australia's relationship with Indonesia.

"You've got to wonder: is Tony Abbott just prepared to call the Indonesians' bluff? If that's the case, I don't think he's playing with the full deck," she said.

Labor's acting immigration spokesman, Mark Dreyfus, said the government's political "cover-up" left Australians in the dark about what the navy was asked to do in their name. Dreyfus told the ABC the prime minister and immigration minister were avoiding an explanation "because that would make clear just how disastrous the impact this has had on our relationship with Indonesia".

Morrison's statement said arrivals by boat had declined by more than 80% since the Coalition began its militaristic Operation Sovereign Borders.

Labor has argued the decisive factor in driving the reduction was the regional resettlement deal Kevin Rudd struck with Papua New Guinea in July as part of a hardline policy to ensure no asylum seekers who arrived by boat would settle in Australia. Morrison said the Coalition government had shown resolve to deter boat arrivals and genuinely implement offshore processing.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/08/turning-back-boats-could-antagonise-indonesia

Government confirms Customs lifeboats purchase

Government confirms Customs bought lifeboats for asylum seeker policy

ABC News Online
First posted Wed 15 Jan 2014, 12:08pm AEDT
Updated Wed 15 Jan 2014, 12:13pm AEDT

The Federal Government has confirmed it has purchased a number of lifeboats as part of its border protection operation but refuses to say how they will be used.

Earlier this month, media reports suggested the Government was considering using lifeboats to send asylum seekers rescued from unseaworthy vessels back to Indonesia.

At the time, the Government refused to comment on the reports.

The Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, Angus Campbell, has confirmed that a number of lifeboats have been bought, although he would not reveal further details.

"We've acquired them to be part of the range of measures that we have at play," he said.

"Clearly a life boat ... it's involved potentially in those on water activities that we don't discuss and so I'm not going to go further in that space."

www.abc.net.au/.../general-campbell-confirms-customs-bought-life-boats/5201116

Asylum seekers 'put into small boat'

Asylum seekers say they were given small boat and forced back to Indonesia

Development appears to be confirmation that Australian authorities are using lifeboats to turn back would-be refugees

Australian Associated Press
theguardian.com
Thursday 16 January 2014 16.34 EST

A group of asylum seekers say they were given a boat by Australian authorities in which they were forced to return to Indonesia under their own steam after their own vessel's engine failed.

The development appears to be confirmation that Australian border protection authorities have begun using lifeboats to return asylum seekers to Indonesia, after the commander of Operation Sovereign Borders confirmed on Wednesday that a number of such vessels had been acquired.

One asylum seeker has said he was with about 50 others from Bangladesh and Pakistan when they were intercepted close to Christmas Island about 10 days ago, after their boat's engine stopped working.

The man, from Bangladesh, who spoke through a translator, said they had then been transferred to an Australian navy vessel, where they remained for several days, before being escorted back towards Indonesia.

They were then given a smaller boat that they used to make their own way to Pelabuhan Ratu in West Java, which they say took about three hours.

The smaller boat was crewed by by the same Indonesian men who had attempted to take the asylum seekers to Christmas Island.

The group arrived at Pelabuhan Ratu about 11am on Wednesday morning.

It is believed they could be from a group of about 54 asylum seekers from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma who had reportedly set out for Christmas Island on about 5 or 6 January.

The development comes after the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, on Wednesday refused to comment on whether Operation Sovereign Borders had involved towing back or turning back boats into Indonesian waters.

But the operation's commander, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, speaking at the same media conference, confirmed that customs had bought a number of lifeboats for its operations.

He would not say how they would be used.

The incident, if confirmed, is likely to prompt an angry response from the Indonesian government after its foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, warned against the measure earlier this week.

"Developments of the type that has been reported in the media, namely the facilitation by way of boats, this is the kind of slippery slope that we have identified in the past," he said in response to the government's admission that lifeboats have been bought.

The asylum seekers involved were not in custody on Thursday night, with many having already made their way back to Bogor, near Jakarta.

Some of group said they had been on another boat which was turned back to Indonesia by Australia in December.

At least three other asylum seeker boats are believed to have been towed back to Indonesia by Australian authorities since 13 December.

A spokesman for Indonesia's co-ordinating minister for politics, security and law, Djoko Suyanto, said his office was aware that two asylum,seeker boats had been turned back by Australia, in December and on 6 January.

www.theguardian.com/.../asylum-seekers-...-given-small-boat-and-forced-back-to-indonesia

Asylum seekers say they were tricked by navy

The Age
January 17, 2014
Michael Bachelard

Australia has for the first time used one of its new lifeboats to send a group of 56 asylum seekers back to Indonesia in a move that is likely to plunge the bilateral relationship to a new low.

Fairfax Media has interviewed a large group of would-be refugees from Pakistan and Bangladesh who scuttled their wooden vessel six days ago in an attempt to avoid being pushed back to Indonesia.

Instead they were picked up by an Australian Navy vessel, HMAS Stuart, and kept overnight before being transferred to a Customs and Border Protection vessel.

The men said they were tricked into thinking they were going to be taken to Christmas Island. But they were put on a small, bright orange lifeboat-style vessel close to the Indonesian shore, with only enough fuel to return there.

The Indonesian man who captained their wooden asylum boat was put at the helm of the Australian lifeboat to complete the three-hour journey.

The news came as Fairfax Media confirmed that Australia escorted another boat back on December 26, bringing to five the total number of confirmed instances of turn-backs, despite Indonesia's long-running objections to the practice.

Pakistani asylum seeker, Fazal Qadir, 28, said he had set sail from an island off Java on January 5 bound for Christmas Island with 56 people from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq and Palestine on board, along with an Indonesian captain and one crew member. There was one woman with a 20-month-old toddler.

After about three or four days at sea, he said the group was spotted by an Australian aeroplane flying overhead. The boat was already leaking.

"We were very happy [when we saw them] because we thought when the boat went into the water, then they must receive us," Mr Qadir said.

All of the people on board already knew of other vessels which had been returned to Indonesia, so were determined to be rescued rather than escorted back. One passenger took a piece of wood and prised open the hole that was already in the hull. Others rocked the boat.

When it foundered, two Australian speedboats reached them and the 12 navy personnel on board told the asylum seekers to cling to the side. The toddler was provided with a life jacket, Mr Qadir said.

About 20 minutes later, two Australian Navy vessels, numbered 153 (HMAS Stuart) and 88 (HMAS Maitland) came into view.

Mr Qadir said the group was loaded onto the Stuart and they steamed towards Christmas Island. The men were told, and believed, they would be taken there. But the ship did not dock at the island. "We were going around Christmas all the time. For two days we were in the navy ship," Mr Qadir said.

The group was photographed and interviewed by navy personnel. They gave their names and were provided with white, numbered wrist bands.

On the second day they were transferred to a Customs and Border Protection boat that they could not identify. "We could see Christmas [Island]," the men said.

For three days they remained on the Customs boat.

During this time the men were desperate to call their families to tell them they were all right.

"We wanted to call our home because our families were scared their children were dead, but the navy and Customs would not give us a phone. They said we could call when we reached Christmas Island but they lied to us."

Finally, the men say, they were tricked once more. Mr Qadir said a small orange boat with a weather canopy was tied to the back of the Customs ship. They were told to board it because it would ferry them to Christmas Island.

At the last minute, though, a Customs officer came on board, tossed the asylum seekers a four-page document in a range of languages, and returned to the large ship, which sailed away.

The document, dated December 2013, reads: "You only have enough fuel to reach land in Indonesia. You do not have enough fuel to continue your voyage to Australia.

"The master of your vessel is now responsible for your safety. You must co-operate with the master and not act in a manner that risks your safety. You are responsible for your own actions. Your vessel is not equipped for a voyage to Australia. It is not safe to continue your voyage to Australia.

"If you continue on your journey, the master and crew of your boat will face harsh penalties, which may include a jail term."

The master was the Indonesian captain who had brought them from Java. They showed the compasses, GPS system and satellite phone that were provided with the orange boat.

The men said they were dropped very close to Indonesia. It took only three hours to reach shore.

They and the captain abandoned the Australian boat and walked into the jungle. They said they walked for five hours, including crossing a flood-swollen river, to find help.

They returned to their former houses in the West Java town of Cisarua late on Wednesday night.

On Wednesday Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa described the lifeboat option as "a slippery slope".

"It's one thing to turn back the actual boats on which they have been travelling but another issue, when they are transferred onto another boat and facilitated and told to go in that direction,'' he said.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison declined to comment on the asylum seekers' treatment.

A statement from his office said: "For operational security reasons, the government does not confirm or otherwise comment on reports of on-water activities in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders or disclose details of any operations.''

www.theage.com.au/../asylum-seekers-say-they-were-tricked-by-navy-20140116-30xtz.html

Paul Toohey: Tony Abbott's latest Stop-the-boat weapon

First close-up look at a lifeboat the Abbott Government is using to stop asylum seeker boats

Paul Toohey, Java
The Courier-Mail
News Limited Network
January 31, 2014 11:00PM

  • First look at air-conditioned, powered 90-seat lifeboats used to send asylum-seekers home
  • 'Unsinkable' fully enlosed pods contain food, water and navigational equipment
  • Arrival of first boat in Java has sent shockwavers throught the people-smuggler and asylum networks

This is what awaits asylum-seekers trying to get to Australia on dodgy wooden smuggling boats - the gift of an air-conditioned, 90-seat lifeboat, and an armed escort back to Indonesia.

This is the first close-up look at one of the 11 lifeboats that the Abbott Government has sourced out of Singapore in its uncompromising fight to stop the boats - a fight that it appears to be winning.

The fully enclosed and submersible 8.5m x 3.2m survival capsule, fitted with safety belts, navigational equipment, life jackets, food, water and an inboard diesel motor, came ashore in remote Cikepuh, in West Java, on the afternoon of January 15.

Naval officer Edi Sukendi, based in Ujung Genteng, the closest point between Indonesia and Australia, got word from a forest ranger that an unusual vessel had crash-landed and disgorged an estimated 60 asylum-seekers, who immediately scattered into the jungle.

Sukendi, a naval operational with no boat of his own, asked a local fishermen to take him up the coast to Cikepuh to investigate. They found the orange capsule jammed on a coral reef within wading distance of shore and approached it cautiously.

"When we first saw it, we were very surprised," Sukendi said. "We were worried it might have explosives." He said they found discarded food and water bottles with Malaysian markings, and first assumed it had come from there.

Twenty men heaved the boat to the beach. It was not leaking but they were unable to start it because the keys were missing.

The boat was towed to the port of Pelabuhan Ratu and has been impounded by the navy.

Prime Minister Abbott's turn-back policy - along with the phone-tapping scandal - has caused intense heat at the highest diplomatic levels between Indonesia and Australia.

But there is no question the policy has sent a shock through smuggler and asylum networks, already reeling from Kevin Rudd's declaration of July last year that no one who arrived by boat would ever settle in Australia.

Cisarua, in central West Java, once the biggest catchment for Australia-bound asylum-seekers, is a shadow of what it was only seven months ago, when thousands of asylum-seekers were highly visible on the city's streets.

Ali Abbas Josh, 35, an Afghan asylum-seeker who came back to Cisarua last year for a second attempt after failing to make it to Australia by boat under John Howard, said people had lost hope.

"We agree the way to Australia has been closed," he said. "We accept that you have closed the way, that you won't take us if we come by boat."

Mr Josh said those remaining in Cisarua were the most desperate stragglers, who could not afford to pay smugglers. He said they had been abandoned by the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration.

From June 2012 to June 2013, there was a huge surge in the boats, when 25,793 people made it to Australia under the former government. Most of those were Sri Lankan and Iranians, who during that period came in an unprecedented rush.

Now, it is estimated there are only 20 Iranian families left in the area. Most have gone home or are scattered in detention centres across Indonesia, awaiting formal resettlement.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's office said in March last year, 68 per cent of people registered with the UNHCR in Indonesia were failing to do follow up interviews and were instead "opting to attempt to enter Australia illegally by boat. By December last year, that rate had dropped to nine per cent."

An Iranian husband and wife in Cisarua said they received a visit from three filthy and distraught Iranian asylum-seekers who knocked on their door on January 17, two days after the lifeboat came ashore.

They told the husband and wife they had made it close to Christmas Island in when they sighted an Australian Border protection Command vessel. At that point, they began scuttling the boat.

The Australians tried to pump the wooden boat but it was too damaged. They were then taken aboard the vessel where, according to this account, they spent 10 days cruising within sight of Christmas Island.

It was said there were adults, children and teenagers aboard.

They were fed and photographed. On the tenth day, they were ordered into the lifeboat. Some, according to the husband and wife, refused to enter the capsule and were physically shoved inside. They were given documents stating they were not permitted to enter Australian waters.

The Indonesian crew piloted the lifeboat, shadowed by a Border Protection Command vessel, until they arrived close to Indonesian territory.

The Indonesian crew chose a sparsely inhabited jungle reserve, one of the most remote areas on the southern coast, to land the vessel.

The asylum-seekers - said to be mostly Iranian and Sri Lankan - told the husband and wife the Indonesians jumped out close to shore and handed the controls to an Iranian, who ran the boat into a coral reef.

They waded ashore wearing life jackets and spent two days wandering terrified in the jungle before a sheepherder directed them towards a road, where they grabbed minibuses and motorbikes to take them back to Cisarua.

Three people died while crossing a river in the jungle.

The boats have slowed dramatically but members of this particular group will not take no for an answer - the Iranian couple said their phones were now switched off and they were trying once again to get to Australia.

The lifeboat - believed to be the second so far sent to Indonesia - is understood to be one of 11 bought by the government for around $500,000. The Customs vessel Ocean Protector was expected to arrive off Christmas Island on Thursday with eight of the 11 lifeboats for boat people "turn around duty".

Australia is also being assisted indirectly by Indonesia, who despite the current political difficulties is staging its own crackdown.

An Indonesian intelligence source said agents were flooding known smuggling hot spots looking to break the industry from the inside by exposing military and police known to assist smugglers moving people to the coast and onto the boats.

"The belief is that many individuals in the military and police are involved," said the intelligence officer. "They are getting much more attention now. They are putting kuching (meaning cats, or spies) everywhere. If there is good control, the problem with Australia will stop."

News Corp heard a disturbing report from an Iranian asylum-seeker, who took the boat that sunk off Java on July 23, that his group had been escorted to the coast in 11 mini-vans by 15 plainclothes men carrying automatic rifles and pistols.

The asylum-seeker said the presence of the armed escorts - whom he believed were off-duty police or military - was unprecedented in the experience of most asylum-seekers, but showed how serious the smugglers had become as the way to Australia became harder.

Former air chief marshall, Chappy Hakim, who headed the Indonesian air force and has had decades-long ties with the Australian military, said Australia ought to work with Indonesia on the turn-back policy.

"Pushing back the boats is a small issue," he said. "But if your government is tackling issues alone, not negotiating first, then we have a problem."

It is not known what will become of returned lifeboats, but Corporal Sukendi said he'd gladly take the boat and use it to conduct patrols on his coast.

www.couriermail.com.au/../lifeboat/stop-asylum-seeker-boats/story-fnihslxi-1226815340238

How the lifeboat was first discovered on shore in West Java

Paul Toohey, Java
The Courier-Mail
News Limited Network
January 31, 2014 11:00PM

When naval officer Edi Sukendi saw the weird orange capsule jammed on a coral reef close to shore, his first instinct was to check it for explosives.

Corporal Sukendi got word from a ranger that the strange vessel had landed on the afternoon of January 15, and disgorged an estimated 60 asylum-seekers, who immediately scattered into the jungle.

This is the first look at one of the reported 11 lifeboats that the Abbott government bought out of Singapore to send asylum-seekers back to Indonesia.

Sukendi was shocked at the sophistication of the brand new 8.5m x 3.2m vessel, fitted with 90 seats (with seatbelts), air-conditioning, navigational equipment, life jackets, food and water and an inboard diesel motor that he estimated was capable of doing 30 knots.

Sukendi, a naval operational commander who has no boat of his own, was taken aback that Australia would give away such a boat to asylum-seekers.

Sukendi asked a local fishermen, named Amar, to take him to a remote point halfway between his base at Ujung Genteng (the closest point between Indonesia and Christmas Island) and the port of Pelabuhan Ratu.

Upon arrival, they found the fully enclosed safety vessel stuck on coral within wading distance of shore. With 20 men, they heaved the boat to shore. It was not leaking but they were unable to start it because the keys were missing.

"When we first saw it, we were very surprised," Sukendi said. "We were worried it might have explosives." He said the discarded food and water bottles were all marked as Malaysian, so he at first assumed it had come from there.

The story became clearer after a visit to Iranian asylum-seekers in the West Java city of Cisarua. A husband and wife said they received a visit from three filthy and distraught Iranian asylum-seekers who knocked on their door on January 17, two days after the lifeboat came ashore.

It was not possible to speak to any of the people who were on the boat because their phones are switched off - they're in the hands of smugglers, attempting to make it to Australia once again.

But they told the husband and wife what had happened. They said they had made it close to Christmas Island in a wooden vessel when they sighted an Australian Border protection Command vessel.

At that point, they began scuttling the boat.

They told the husband and wife the Australian navy tried to pump the boat but it was too damaged. They were then taken aboard the vessel where they spent 10 days cruising within sight of Christmas Island.

They said there were adults, children and teenagers aboard.

They were fed and photographed. On the tenth day, they were ordered into the lifeboat. Some, according to the husband and wife, refused to enter the capsule and were physically shoved inside. They were given documents stating their vessel was not to enter Australian waters.

The Indonesian crew who had captained the scuttled boat was ordered to pilot the lifeboat back to Indonesia. They travelled through international waters under escort by Border Protection Command until they arrived close to Indonesian territory.

The Indonesian crew chose a sparsely inhabited jungle reserve, one of the most remote areas on the southern coast, to land the vessel.

The asylum-seekers - said to be mostly Iranian and Sri Lankan - told the husband and wife the Indonesians jumped out close to shore and handed the controls to an Iranian, who ran the boat into a reef.

They then waded ashore wearing life jackets and spent two days wandering terrified in the jungle before a sheepherder directed them towards a road, where they grabbed minibuses and motorbikes to take them back to Cisarua.

Three died while crossing a river in the jungle.

The boats have slowed dramatically but this particular group will not take no for an answer - and may cost the Australian government a second lifeboat if they are intercepted again.

The lifeboat is consistent with the Vanguard brand, which sells safety vessels in Singapore.

The boat - believed to be the second sent so far back to Indonesia - was towed into Pelabuhan Ratu and secured in a navy dock, where its future is unknown.

Edi Sukendi says he'd gladly take the boat and use it to conduct patrols on his coast.

www.couriermail.com.au/.../...first-discovered-on-shore-in-west-java/story-fnihslxi-1226815344168

Lifeboat carrying asylum seekers lands on Indonesia coast

ABC News Online
By Indonesia correspondent George Roberts
First posted Thu 6 Feb 2014, 7:53pm AEDT
Updated Thu 6 Feb 2014, 9:23pm AEDT

Asylum seekers discovered last night on the Indonesian coast say they were nearly ready to disembark at Christmas Island when the Australian Navy sent them back.

The ABC has obtained exclusive footage of an orange lifeboat after it landed on Java's south coast last night.

Local police have described the vessel as alien-looking.

The Indonesian navy says there were 34 people on board the lifeboat, which had recently been purchased by the Australian Navy.

ABC News has sought comment from Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, but he is on a diplomatic tour abroad.

A spokeswoman for the minister said: "In line with the policy of not discussing what happens at sea, the Government has no response on the issues raised."

Indonesia's navy held a meeting this week to discuss the boat turn-backs and has decided to boost personnel numbers on Java's southern coast.

The asylum seekers say they made it close to Christmas Island when the Australian Navy intercepted them.

All but two were transferred onto the lifeboat and sent back to Indonesia, where it beached on Wednesday evening.

Passengers say two people resisted the Navy's attempt to put them on the lifeboat, so they were not returned to Indonesia.

Earlier this week Mr Morrison told an Australian newspaper that two asylum seekers were transferred for medical treatment, one of them for a heart condition.

It is not clear if they are the same two people who were not sent back on this boat.

Indonesian sources have told the ABC those on board came from Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

The youngest aboard was 18 months old.

They also said the asylum seekers were fed and medically treated by the Australian Government, but they claim to have run out of food 48 hours before they landed in Java.

www.abc.net.au/.../lifeboat-carrying-asylum-seekers-lands-on-indonesia-coast/5243990

Boat pushed back to Java: Indonesian media

AAP / The West Australian
February 6, 2014, 1:19pm

A boat carrying about 50 asylum seekers has reportedly been pushed back to Indonesian waters by Australian authorities, and washed up on a Java beach.

Indonesian news service Kompas.com reports the group of Middle Eastern people stranded on Pangandaran Beach, West Java, on Wednesday night.

They then dispersed, and only 21 were in the custody of Indonesian police, the report on Thursday said.

Among them were pregnant women and children.

They said they had been pushed back by Australian authorities after the boat they were on managed to cross into Australian waters.

Kompas.com reported they ran out of fuel before stranding.

An officer from Pangandaran water police, Sutikno, said the 21 asylum seekers were found not far from where the boat washed ashore.

"Men, women, children and pregnant women were there," he said.

"Those who have been secured are in the police station, water police station and military office in Pangandaran."

Police were still searching for the others, who are suspected to have fled to Pamugaran.

The boat is being guarded by police.

http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/a/21302135/boat-pushed-back-to-java-indon-media/

New video emerges as Defence Minister criticises ABC

Asylum seekers towed back in lifeboat: New video emerges as Defence Minister criticises ABC

ABC News Online
First posted Fri 7 Feb 2014, 2:01pm AEDT
Updated Fri 7 Feb 2014, 4:41pm AEDT

The first video of what appears to be a lifeboat full of asylum seekers being towed by an Australian vessel under Operation Sovereign Borders has been obtained by the ABC.

The video, received from Indonesian sources, appears to have been filmed from inside an orange lifeboat which is being towed by the Australian Customs vessel Triton on the high seas.

At least one young child can be seen on board the lifeboat and another large vessel can be seen nearby.

It is believed the same lifeboat arrived on the southern coast of Java on Wednesday night.

The Indonesian navy says there were 34 asylum seekers on board the boat.

Last month the Defence Force confirmed reports that it had bought lifeboats for use in Operation Sovereign Borders, but would not comment on reports they would be used to send asylum seekers back to Indonesia.

In other developments:

  • A Fairfax reporter who tried to track down asylum seekers whose hands were allegedly burned by Australian sailors says they are "extremely nervous" about the consequences of speaking out
  • Defence Minister David Johnston has hit out at the ABC's coverage of the story, accusing the broadcaster of "maliciously maligning" the Navy
  • Immigration Minister Scott Morrison dismissed the fresh Fairfax reports about the hand-burning claims as "malicious and unfounded slurs"
  • Opposition Leader Bill Shorten accused the Government of "hiding behind the uniforms" of the Defence Force.

Lifeboat arrives on Java

The asylum seekers on board the lifeboat which turned up on the Javanese coast say they made it close to Christmas Island when the Australian Navy intercepted them.

All but two were transferred onto the lifeboat and sent back to Indonesia, where it beached on Wednesday evening.

Passengers say two people resisted the Navy's attempt to put them on the lifeboat, so they were not returned to Indonesia.

Earlier this week Mr Morrison said two asylum seekers had been transferred for medical treatment, one of them for a heart condition.

It is not clear if they are the same two people who were not sent back on this boat.

Youngest was 18 months old

Indonesian sources have told the ABC those on board came from Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

They say the youngest aboard was 18 months old.

They also say the asylum seekers were fed and medically treated by Australian authorities, but claimed to have run out of food 48 hours before landing in Java.

Natalegawa takes swipe at policy

Indonesia's foreign minister Marty Natalegawa has repeated his concerns about Australia's policies in the wake of the lifeboat's arrival.

"This kind of policy of transferring people from one boat to another and then directing them back to Indonesia is not really helpful," he said.

Indonesia's navy held a meeting this week to discuss the boat turn-backs and has decided to boost personnel numbers on Java's southern coast.

Fresh Fairfax report

Fairfax Media has published a story in which a man says he saw Australian personnel deliberately holding three men's hands to a hot exhaust pipe during a tow-back operation in January.

The article, written by Fairfax's Indonesia correspondent Michael Bachelard, quotes a man identified as Yousif Ibrahim Fasher as saying the burns were inflicted as punishment for protesting, and to deter other asylum seekers from asking to go to the toilet.

The claims the asylum seekers had their hands burned were reported by the ABC on January 22, prompting criticism of the national broadcaster from the Federal Government and some sections of the media.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has rejected the claims as "malicious and unfounded slurs". He said they were "rigorously assessed" at the time they were made.

"[The Government] rejects outright any allegations of unprofessional conduct by our people serving in Operation Sovereign Borders," he said.

"If media outlets wish to give credibility by publishing such unsubstantiated claims, that is a matter for them."

Defence Minister criticises ABC

Defence Minister David Johnston says he is extremely angry about the ABC's coverage of stories about the navy's treatment of asylum seekers, saying he has not commented before now because he needed time to cool off.

"The good men and women of the Royal Australian Navy have been maliciously maligned by the ABC and I am very dissatisfied with the weasel words of apology that have been floated around by senior management of the ABC," he said.

The Defence Minister said Customs and the Navy had saved "thousands of lives" between Christmas Island and Java over the last four years.

"My people have been spat on, abused, treated like servants, and have endured all of that to save more than a thousand lives, and yet they've also had to endure the horror of fishing out hundreds of people floating dead in the water," he said.

"I am absolutely sick to the stomach that this Australian iconic news agency would attack the Navy in the way that it has."

He described the Navy as "heroes", and called for an investigation into the ABC.

"If ever there was an event that justified a detailed inquiry, some reform, an investigation of the ABC, this event is it. They themselves have cast a giant shadow over the veracity of their reporting and yet they've besmirched these hard-working people," he said.

Yesterday ABC managing director Mark Scott stood by the broadcaster's reporting of asylum seeker allegations against the Navy, and resisted calls to apologise.

Today, Prime Minister Tony Abbott rejected calls for the Navy to release photos or videos to show exactly what has happened during operations to intercept asylum seekers.

Asked if releasing footage could dispel ambiguity, Mr Abbott said it might also help people smugglers.

"I have nothing but respect for them," he said of the Australian Navy and Customs personnel.

"They are doing a fine job, often under difficult circumstances. They act in accordance with the humanity which you would expect of Australian military and service personnel and I have seen nothing that credibly casts doubts upon that professionalism."

Shorten: Govt 'hides behind' military

Federal Opposition leader Bill Shorten says the Government is setting the military up to fail by insisting on secrecy about asylum seeker interceptions.

In a comment likely to infuriate the Government, he accused it of hiding behind the military uniforms.

"The Navy do a tough job but their job is made even tougher when you've got a Federal Government hiding behind the uniforms not standing up for them," he said.

"What we need here is to forget the secrecy. The Australian people will give a fair bit of slack to governments provided they are up front with the Australian people. It's time to end the secrecy - and its time to stop leaving our Navy out on their own.

"It is not good enough for the Abbott Government to only come into sight when they've got a photo opportunity and then disappear like a submarine on every other issue."

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-07/video-emerges-of-lifeboat-towback-operation/5245280

Indonesia decries turnbacks as boat washes up on Java

Indonesia objects again to turnbacks as second lifeboat washes up on Java

Comments come as row over burns allegations is reignited by interview with man who says he witnessed mistreatment

Paul Farrell
theguardian.com
Thursday 6 February 2014 17.23 EST

Indonesia's foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, has expressed further concern about the Australian government's policy of sending asylum seekers back to Indonesia after a second lifeboat washed up on Indonesian shores.

The ABC has obtained footage that shows the asylum seekers disembarking the lifeboat on a Java beach. Indonesian authorities said there had been 34 asylum seekers on board the vessel, which the Abbott government bought to send asylum seekers back to Indonesia.

"We still think that pushing back boats is not the best solution," Natalegawa told reporters in Indonesia in Thursday.

The policy of turning back asylum seeker boats has been an ongoing source of tension between the two countries, and Natalegawa has previously rejected the policy.

"On the push-back policy itself, let me put on the record our rejection to the policy. Pushing back the boats is not a solution," he said in January.

The lifeboat is the second to have been found, following reports last week that published photos of the first vessel to wash up on shore.

The finding of the second vessel is believed to be at least the sixth turnback or towback operation that has occurred since the new government began the practice at the end of the last year.

The circumstances surrounding the turnback operations have been mired in secrecy, and the ABC has come under scrutiny for its reporting of allegations that asylum seekers were deliberately burnt by navy personnel in an asylum seeker operation.

But an investigation by Fairfax Media on Thursday revealed that a central figure relating to the burns allegations, Yousif Ibrahim Fasher, said he had never been questioned by Australian authorities in relation to the matter.

The Fairfax investigation detailed further claims made by Fasher, who said he had been a witness to the incident involving navy personnel and the burns.

"I saw it with my eyes because I was translating ... They punished three of them, three of them ... so they would never want to go to the toilet again," Fasher said, who was on the navy vessel at the time.

He said he had been called over by a navy officer.

"They said, 'Yousif, translate for the people. Say to anyone, if you want to go to the toilet again, we will burn his hands. So, tell them.' So I translate for them."

The federal government has strongly denied the claims from the asylum seekers, but has refused to provide a detailed account of what happened during the operation.

"The government does not give credibility to malicious and unfounded slurs being made against our navy personnel and rejects outright any allegations of unprofessional conduct by our people serving in Operation Sovereign Borders," the immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said in a statement to Fairfax.

"If media outlets wish to give credibility by publishing such unsubstantiated claims, that is a matter for them."

The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the government was continuing to risk the safety of asylum seekers by turning back boats.

"Tony Abbott has told the Australian people that no boats are arriving, but we know that they have come with men, women and children on board," she said.

"Rather than giving vulnerable families protection from war and torture, the Abbott government is pushing them back out into the open ocean time and time again.

"The government must answer questions about their towback policy. Were these refugees really held on an Australian boat for over a week, as reported?"

www.theguardian.com/.../indonesia-objects..turnbacks-as-second-lifeboat-washes-up-on-java

Boat turn-backs 'not helpful': Indonesia's foreign minister

Marty Natalegawa says turn backs 'not helpful', as Greens accuse government of lying about boat arrivals

The Age
February 7, 2014 - 9:38am
Jonathan Swan, Michael Bachelard

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has again attacked the Abbott government's policy of boat "turn-backs", as the Greens accuse the government of lying about boat arrivals.

As reports emerged on Thursday of another turn back of an asylum seeker boat, Mr Natalegawa indicated the policy was deepening tensions between the Indonesian and Australian governments.

''This kind of policy of transferring people from one boat to another and then directing them back to Indonesia is not really helpful,'' Mr Natalegawa told the ABC.

Greens immigration spokeswoman Sarah Hanson-Young seized on the latest report of a boat being pushed back on the high seas, to say it exposed the "lie" that asylum boats were no longer coming to Australia.

''What it shows is that the boats still are coming despite whatever [Immigration Minister] Scott Morrison or Tony Abbott say about them stopping. It's a lie,'' Senator Hanson-Young told the ABC on Friday.

''People are still fleeing war and persecution, they're desperate for safety and they continue to come.''

Senator Hanson-Young said she was "very concerned" about reports that there were children as young as 18 months old on board the latest boat.

''It is never safe to turn back a boat, push a boat back to the high seas with children that young on board,'' she said.

Former Labor immigration minister Chris Bowen said his successor, Mr Morrison, was obsessed with secrecy.

Mr Bowen said Mr Morrison would have demanded his resignation if he had tried the same measures that the Coalition government had since winning office.

''Whoever it was (as minister) when Labor was in office, whether it was myself or Brendan O'Connor or Tony Burke, we were upfront with people,'' he told ABC radio on Friday.

''We fronted up to the press conferences, we answered the difficult questions and we didn't hide from the scrutiny as Scott Morrison appears to be devoted to doing.''

Fairfax Media revealed on Thursday that the Abbott government had deployed another of its big orange lifeboats to return a group of asylum seekers to Indonesia -- the sixth confirmed turn-back since the policy was enacted in December.

Sources in Cisarua, where many asylum seekers gather before boarding boats, believe the 34 people on board had left almost two weeks ago, on January 27.

That timing suggests the people have been in the custody of Australian authorities for a perhaps a week before embarking on the ''unsinkable'' vessel.

Reports emerged in recent days of Australian vessels Triton and Bathurst sailing off the coast of Christmas Island, with an orange boat in tow.

Indonesian media reported the boat was carrying 34 people and had landed on the west coast of Pangandaran Bay, on Java's southern coast at about 8.30pm local time on Wednesday night.

Local authorities were quoted saying that as many as 21 people from Iran two of whom were toddlers aged about 18 months five from Bangladesh, six from Nepal and two people from Pakistan.

All were now temporarily housed in police or naval facilities.

When contacted for comment on Thursday afternoon, Mr Morrison said: ''In accordance with the Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Task Force policy regarding public release of information on operational matters, the government has no response on the issues raised.''

In less than two months, Tony Abbott's Coalition government has turned back, towed back, or sent back to Indonesia in lifeboats more boats than his mentor John Howard managed in more than two years between October 2001 and November 2003.

However, the boats appearing during the Howard era were bigger, and 614 people were returned by the Australian navy in his time. Mr Abbott has so far returned just 249 people.

www.theage.com.au/.../...turn-backs-...government..lying-about-boat-arrivals-20140207-325hk.html

Another orange lifeboat arrives on Indonesia's Java coast

Another orange lifeboat carrying asylum seekers arrives on Indonesia's Java coast: military source

ABC News Online
Indonesia correspondent George Roberts
First posted Tue 25 Feb 2014, 7:51am AEDT
Updated Tue 25 Feb 2014, 9:09am AEDT

Another orange lifeboat carrying asylum seekers has turned up on the Indonesian coast after allegedly being sent there by Australian authorities, the ABC has been told.

Earlier this month ABC News obtained footage of a similar boat carrying asylum seekers being towed by an Australian Customs ship.

A senior Indonesian military source has told the ABC the latest lifeboat was discovered yesterday, about midday local time, off Kebumen, off the south coast of central Java.

Local media, including Indonesian government-owned newswire Antara, are reporting that about 26 asylum seekers were found on board, although it is unclear if that number includes Indonesian crew members.

Two passenger lists provided to the ABC contain differing numbers and an Indonesian military source says there were 24 on board.

One of the asylum seekers told Antara they nearly made it to Australia when they were sent back in the lifeboat.

It is understood they have been transferred to the nearby town of Cilacap.

The lifeboat is described as a capsule, similar to that used by Australian authorities to return asylum seekers to Indonesia on February 5 this year.

That group said they were nearly ready to disembark at Christmas Island when the Australian Navy sent them back.

The Indonesian navy said there were 34 people on board that lifeboat, which had recently been purchased by the Australian Navy.

All but two of those asylum seekers were transferred onto the lifeboat and sent back to Indonesia.

Passengers said two people resisted the Navy's attempt to put them on the lifeboat, so they were not returned to Indonesia.

Indonesian sources told the ABC at the time that those on board came from Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal and the youngest aboard was 18 months old.

They also said the asylum seekers were fed and medically treated by Australian authorities, but claimed to have run out of food 48 hours before landing in Java.

Labor calls for explanation

Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa has previously expressed concern over the boat turn-backs policy.

The Opposition's immigration spokesman, Richard Marles, has renewed his calls for the Government to explain how it is using the lifeboats.

"We've seen a number now being reported but the Government continues to refuse to explain what it's doing on the high seas," he said.

"This is a matter of enormous public interest in Australia. The Government needs to come clean and explain its asylum seeker policy."

The Australian Government has confirmed it has purchased lifeboats, but has not confirmed how many. Each is believed to cost at least $70,000.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison is yet to comment on the latest incident.

www.abc.net.au/.../another-orange-lifeboat-carrying-asylum-seekers-arrives-in-indo/5281484

Another turned back boat lands in Indonesia

The Age
February 25, 2014 - 12:31pm
Michael Bachelard, with AAP

Australia has returned its seventh boatload of asylum seekers to Indonesia, deploying another orange lifeboat to the southern coast of Java with 26 people aboard.

Local media reports from Kebumen in Central Java said the people were stranded on a beach in the area about 1pm local time (5pm AEDT) on Monday after climbing out of an Operation Sovereign Borders ''unsinkable'' lifeboat.

Discovery of the lifeboat comes as the government is under fire over its border policies, following the riot at the Manus Island detention centre and the navy's incursions into Indonesian waters.

The latest group of returned asylum seekers was picked up on the beach by a local search and rescue crew, but the Indonesian captain had reportedly already escaped.

The asylum seekers were from Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates according to reports and were taken on Monday night to the nearby town of Cilacap.

The asylum seekers told local police that they had been caught by Australia and returned, though the circumstances are not yet clear.

One of the men was ill and had been admitted to hospital, officers said, after having not eaten for four days.

The Indonesian navy planned to impound the lifeboat, local officials are quoted saying.

This is the third of the Operation Sovereign Borders lifeboats to be returned to Indonesia after the first was deployed on January 15.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, has repeatedly attacked the Abbott government's policy of boat ''turn-backs'', warning the practice would damage relations between the two countries.

However, since relations are already at a very low ebb, it appears the Australian government has decided to take advantage of the situation to push very strongly its no-boats policy.

In early February, following the sixth confirmed tow-back since the Coalition's policy was enacted in December, Dr Natalegawa said: ''This kind of policy of transferring people from one boat to another and then directing them back to Indonesia is not really helpful.''

Indonesia's security affairs minister, Djoko Suyanto, has also told Fairfax Media that Australia ''must understand the meaning of the sovereignty of the republic of Indonesia, which the Australian navy breached in the way it did".

When asked about the policy's deleterious effect on the Australia-Indonesia relationship, neither Prime Minister Tony Abbott nor Immigration Minister Scott Morrison have been willing to concede to Indonesia's concerns.

Mr Abbott has insisted that Australia is entitled to protect its borders and would continue to do so, irrespective of Indonesian concerns over territorial incursions.

''Stopping the boats is a matter of sovereignty and President Yudhoyono of all people ought to understand . . . just how seriously countries take their sovereignty," Mr Abbott said, during the World Economic Forum in Davos in late January.

In less than three months, the Abbott government has turned back, towed back, or sent back to Indonesia in lifeboats more boats than John Howard managed in more than two years between October 2001 and November 2003.

A spokesperson from Immigration Minister Scott Morrison's office said: ''In accordance with the Operation Sovereign Borders Joint Agency Task Force policy regarding public release of information on operational matters, the government has no further response on the issues raised.''

Former Labor immigration minister Tony Burke on Tuesday criticised the government's continued secrecy.

''We get our information it seems from the Indonesian media on all of this,'' he told reporters in Canberra.

Australia's northern neighbour was central to tackling people smuggling, Mr Burke said.

''If anyone thinks that you can deal with this issue without a co-operative relationship with Indonesia - Indonesia's quite capable of proving that argument wrong,'' he said.

www.theage.com.au/.../another-turned-back-boat-lands-in-indonesia-20140225-33dn7.html

Asylum seekers tell of lifeboat ordeal to Java

'We were all sick': returned asylum seekers tell of lifeboat ordeal to Java

The Age
March 2, 2014
Michael Bachelard

The orange lifeboat wallowing in the shallows off the coast of Central Java is proving to be a highly effective weapon in Australia's military campaign against asylum seekers.

To the people forced to travel in them, it is a vomitous and terrifying experience. ''Inside the orange boat it was closed, hot and very dark,'' says Omar Ali, an Egyptian asylum seeker now held in detention in an old office building in Cilacap, Central Java. ''When the driver opens the door, the water comes inside. Everybody sick - there was no air.''

This week, Ali and 27 other young men became the seventh group of asylum seekers since December ''turned back'' from Australian waters to Indonesia, and the third returned in a $46,000 disposable lifeboat.

Their boat, like the previous two, was steered by the Indonesian crew who had been in charge of the wooden vessel provided by the people smugglers. When it reached the shore, it was abandoned on the beach. Indonesian authorities have no idea what to do with the ugly vessels landing uninvited on their shores.

The experience of the latest group of returnees suggests the Australian authorities are refining their technique. In the first return, in mid-January, the asylum seekers claimed they were tricked, then given written information about what was happening to them as they were pushed off. On the second return in early February, an asylum seeker used a phone camera to film the lifeboat being towed behind an Australian customs ship, the Triton.

In this latest incident, the asylum seekers say their interaction with Australian personnel was kept to a minimum.

After intercepting the wooden asylum boat in the sea near Christmas Island at 1am on Friday, February 21, Australian crews wearing blue Customs and Border Protection uniforms tried to recommission the old wooden boat to return the asylum seekers to Indonesia, but the engine failed to start.

The 28 asylum seekers were then transferred to a large customs ship, with officers ''pushing one by one with hands behind our back'', Ali says.

Any objections or requests for food and water were shouted down.

One customs officer said: '''Don't speak. Shut up. F--- you','' Ali says, others nodding.

One man, Khazim Mohammad, from Iraq, was lying sick on the boat. ''The [Australian officer] said: 'You're joking. Liar, liar ... and grabbed him and pulled him.''

Naval and customs officers are allowed to use reasonable force in carrying out their duties. In December last year, the Chief of the Defence Force exempted them from the requirement under the Work Health and Safety Act to ''not adversely affect the health and safety of other persons''.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison would not comment on specific operations, but, asked about the use of force and bad language, he said staff involved ''conduct their roles with the highest levels of professionalism, integrity and personal courage ... The Australian Public Service and Australian Defence Force are required to treat everyone with respect and courtesy, and without harassment.''

On board the customs ship, interaction between crew and asylum seekers was minimal. Once their details were entered on a computer, the men were given wristbands with numbers on them. Then, they say, they were kept below decks for about three days.

''Inside the big ship, no sun, no air. We don't know if it's night or day. We can't sleep, loud noises,'' Omar Ali says.

On the first day, they were given cheese sandwiches and a cup each for water, which they were told to fill up in the bathroom. But for the next two days, the men say, they mounted a hunger strike, refusing further food. The Indonesian crew was kept in a separate part of the ship. At some point, Pakistani asylum seeker Ashrof Nusrat Ali says, someone searched their belongings, and all valuables - money, phones, SIM cards - were taken.

The next move, last Monday morning, was onto the orange lifeboat. It was the first time the men had seen it and they say the transfer was done within sight of land. ''The soldiers brought us to the orange boat ... and closed the door and said to the driver of this boat ... 'Go to that island','' Ali said.

The Indonesian crew, who spoke almost no English, said it was Christmas Island. Ali did not believe them, but there was no chance of turning back to the real Christmas Island. The crew, although experienced sailors from South Sulawesi, had never seen anything like the orange blob they captained, and there was not enough fuel to go anywhere except to the island.

The island, it turned out, was Java.

The lifeboats are small, dark and closed, with a couple of high windows. Even having 28 people on board would have felt crowded, though the name plate says it is rated for 55 people.

''No air inside and no airconditioning for the orange boat. We are very sick. We are very sick,'' says Ali. ''It's like animals. Animals cannot be treated like this.''

The journey to Java lasted about three hours before the boat ran aground on a rugged bay near the village of Kebumen.

They were 30 metres from the beach in high surf, but there was little choice but to jump. ''We think we will die. We can't swim,'' Ali says.

A local farmer found the exhausted men and called the police. The asylum seekers are bound for detention, while the crew is being questioned by local police. The fate of the lifeboat is equally uncertain. It has been stripped by scavengers, and is wallowing on the beach.

www.theage.com.au/.../..returned-asylum-seekers-tell-of-lifeboat-ordeal-to-java-20140301-33sol.html

Training, lifeboats and asylum seekers in the 'battle space'

Crikey
March 6, 2014
Bernard Keane

While the Coalition and sections of the media were last week vilifying Labor Senator Stephen Conroy for pointing out the government's use of the military to hide information, thanks to his efforts the legal and operational framework for forcing asylum seekers into boats to be towed back to Indonesia became just a little clearer.

A key element of the framework was put in place on December 19 last year, when Chief of the Defence Force David Hurley issued a direction under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 that excluded personnel involved in Operation Sovereign Borders from sections 28, 29 and 39 of the act. Fairfax and The Guardian spotted it and reported it in early January, and its importance to the effort to tow back asylum seeker boats has only become clearer since then.

Sections 28 and 29 require workers to take reasonable care their own health and safety and that of other persons in a workplace. The effect of Hurley's direction was to ensure Operation Sovereign Borders personnel did not face the risk of criminal prosecution under the act if they failed to do so. Section 39 relates to preserving sites (i.e. evidence) where a workplace injury has occurred. That, too, has been voided in Operation Sovereign Borders. Hurley was up front about the reason for the direction:

"Commonwealth officials and agents of the Commonwealth will be required to operate in a hazardous, uncertain and high-tempo operational environment, having to board vessels, and control and potentially transfer unco-operative persons."

"In such circumstances, despite best efforts, it may not always be possible to comply with the requirements of the act", Hurley said.

But the determination is unusual in that Australian personnel engaged until recently in Afghanistan, or currently involved in operations against Somali pirates, require no such exemption. There is a determination dating from 2012 exempting personnel in "warlike and non-warlike operations" relating to reporting incidents and preserving sites, as well as some workplace processes like electing OH&S reps. There are also cover-all exemptions in the act relating to national security and defence. But Operation Sovereign Borders personnel are the only ones specifically exempted from the requirement to take reasonable care of others. As Hurley confirmed to Conroy last week in estimates, not even our frontline troops have such an exemption. Only those engaged in turning back unarmed people in wooden boats don't have to exercise reasonable care.

Significantly, however, Hurley's December declaration noted that "Commonwealth officials and agents of the Commonwealth will be appropriately trained, equipped and directed to carry out the above activities in accordance with the objective of the Act so far as possible".

Conroy quizzed Hurley about that training but encountered a wall of silence. All that Hurley and Chief of Navy Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs would say was that the training "reflected the scope of the operation". "If I talk about the type of training," Griggs told Conroy, "I will be going to on-water matters and the techniques and procedures that may be used on water."

So, like a metastasising cancer, the "on-water" secrecy of Operation Sovereign Borders now extends off the water and into anything that might be "used on water", even training. Hurley explained that information about training was what he called "friendly information" that would be "likely to be sought by adversary intelligence elements". Releasing it, Hurley explained, was inconsistent with "the information requirements across the battle space".

A First World navy encountering civilians in wooden boats is now called "the battle space".

That reference sits somewhat uncomfortably with General Angus Campbell's evidence the previous day that Operation Sovereign Borders was not a military operation and that he was not acting in a military capacity when co-ordinating it.

But we do know the navy's training didn't include the safe use of lifeboats. Conroy pursued that issue with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which admitted that it had only provided advice on search and rescue to Operation Sovereign Borders, and not on safety equipment. But AMSA officials revealed that the orange lifeboats used to return asylum seekers to Indonesia by Customs hadn't been inspected or certified by the authority, nor had AMSA made any effort to check whether Customs vessels had the davits necessary to safely launch the lifeboats (committee chairman Bill Heffernan suggested they would be "chucked overboard").

AMSA officers, clearly rattled that they might have said too much for the government's liking about the lifeboats, kept insisting they had no concerns about any lifeboats, "which are part of a ship's lifesaving appliance regime", but that doesn't include the lifeboats used to send asylum seekers back to Indonesia.

The evasion, casuistry and outright refusal of officials to allow any aspect of OSB to be scrutinised, no matter how far removed from "on-water operations", is a new low in Australian government transparency. And it's best summed up by the absurd moment when Conroy played a YouTube video filmed with a phone of a lifeboat being towed back to Indonesia and asked Defence officials to explain what was happening, given the Prime Minister had explicitly said there was no tow-back policy. They all refused to comment. Fairfax's Michael Bachelard this week reported personnel now take phones off asylum seekers before sending them back, perhaps utilising that training they have had since December.

"I would not have a clue," Defence Secretary Dennis Richardson told Conroy about the video. "I am not going to comment on what is on YouTube. We are not going to get involved."

But you are involved, Secretary. You all are.

http://www.crikey.com.au/?p=427500

Donald Rothwell: Border policy strays into uncharted waters

ABC The Drum
By Donald Rothwell
First posted Mon 17 Feb 2014, 6:54am AEDT
Updated Mon 17 Feb 2014, 2:40pm AEDT

Australia has a legal right to defend its shores, but the Abbott government's border protection policy has begun to drift into some legal grey areas, writes Donald Rothwell.

Images of bright red lifeboats appearing unannounced along the Indonesian coast and Australian diplomats being summoned in Jakarta to receive formal protests over the conduct of Operation Sovereign Borders are the latest chapter in the saga of the Abbott government's border protection policy.

An inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the violation by the Australian Navy of Indonesian sovereignty had also recently been completed with a public version of that report about to be released.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Dr Marty Natalegawa, continues to voice his concerns over Operation Sovereign Borders, indicating that the use of lifeboats has escalated the diplomatic rift and that he will be raising Australia's conduct this week in talks with the US Secretary of State, John Kerry.

While the Abbott government refuses to discuss any "on water" matters associated with Operation Sovereign Borders, it would seem reasonable to conclude that lifeboats are being used to return asylum seekers to Indonesia.

The recent purchase of lifeboats by the Australian government has been confirmed. Video images of a lifeboat being towed by an Australian government vessel have not been disputed. At least two lifeboats have washed ashore in Indonesia, baffling local authorities as to their origin and ownership.

Australia has a considerable capacity to protect its sea borders with the Convention on the Law of the Sea providing the legal framework.

Both Australia and Indonesia are parties to the convention, which alongside provisions of the 2000 People Smuggling Protocol to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime give to Australia a wide array of powers to stop, search and exercise control over vessels carrying asylum seekers that enter Australia's maritime zones. Those powers extend to taking control of those vessels, many of which are not flying the Indonesian flag and appear to be stateless, and removing them from Australian waters.

However, towing or escorting those vessels back into the adjoining Indonesian exclusive economic zone without Indonesia's consent is legally dubious.

In particular, Indonesia could assert that any Australian tow back operation within the Indonesian exclusive economic zone is inconsistent with the freedom of navigation.

Official descriptions of Operation Sovereign Borders as a "military-led, border security operation" in which Australia asserts sovereignty over its borders, necessarily leads to the conclusion that Australia is asserting an aspect of its sovereignty during a tow back or escort operation. Evidence in the public domain appears to support the view that Australian Navy and Customs ships have towed vessels, which may include lifeboats, into Indonesian waters and at some point that activity is discontinued with the expectation that the towed vessel make its way towards the Indonesian coast and eventual landfall.

Such an activity cannot be characterised as Australia exercising the freedom of navigation but rather bringing another vessel into Indonesian waters without consent.

While Australia is protesting the unauthorised entry of asylum seeker vessels into its waters, Indonesia also has equivalent rights and obligations to Australia within its maritime zones.

In that respect it needs to be made clear that the mere presence of an Australian Navy ship within the Indonesian 12 nautical mile (22km) territorial sea is not a violation of international law. Australian Navy ships enjoy a right of innocent passage within the Indonesian territorial sea and associated navigation rights throughout the greater Indonesian archipelago.

These navigational rights are critical to Australian trading interests in South-East Asia and are also a component of Australia's maritime security.

However, the entry into Indonesia's territorial sea by an Australian Navy or Customs vessel that has control over an asylum seeker boat by way of a tow line, with the intention of returning that boat to Indonesia, would not be consistent with the right of innocent passage.

In that instance, Indonesia could, under the law of the sea, take steps to prevent such passage, including interdiction by its Navy. Reports that Indonesia has increased maritime patrols of its southern borders suggests that Australia will need to exercise great care to ensure a maritime clash is avoided.

The use of lifeboats into which asylum seekers are transferred and returned to Indonesia raise additional legal issues. These extend to Australia's responsibility under international law for the control that it has exercised over the asylum seekers including the refusal to consider their asylum claims, providing them with a lifeboat by which they are directed to return to Indonesia, and the safety and security of that lifeboat.

Legal issues would arise if the lifeboat is not adequately provisioned with fuel, food and water and has appropriate navigational equipment. It also raises questions as to whether the persons placed in control of the lifeboat have the seamanship skills to be able to successfully navigate their way back to the Indonesian coast.

Variables would also need to be taken into account to ensure the safe return of the lifeboat to shore such as the prevailing sea conditions and the weather, both at the time of release of the tow line but also in the coming hours and days. If a maritime disaster was to strike a lifeboat resulting in loss of life then Australia's responsibility under international law could be considerable.

Donald R Rothwell is Professor of International Law at the ANU College of Law, Australian National University.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-02-17/rothwell---borders/5263394

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