A Boat Called the Janga 1d - Letting Die at Sea


Letting Die at Sea and the Crimes of Peace

A scene unfolds where a boat is being violently pulled towards the coast by strong waves; a crash is imminent. A lone figure stands at the bottom of the frame, watching the scene unfold in horror. As dark clouds loom above, the person cries and screams, unable to intervene.

[imagecaption] Horror, Refugee Art Project, Exile Series. Artist: ‘R’. [/imagecaption]


The wreck of the Janga is one of several fatalities at sea in which several hundreds, if not thousands, of people have lost their lives in the waters surrounding Australia. The term ‘wishful sinking’ was coined by Ghassan Nakhoul to describe the haste with which the government declared boats missing (Nakhoul, 2011, 119-121). Over the years, ‘wishful sinking’ has taken on more sinister undertones, to suggest the ways in which the deaths of asylum seekers at sea were placed at the heart of state policies of ‘deterrence’, policies which in fact served to render those lives more at risk of dying at sea.

This case study situates the deaths of those on the Janga against the deaths at sea of many thousands more trying to reach Europe. The border, in both these instances, operates differentially as a set of racialised legal and political forces, drawing lines in the sea, funneling the movements of people and entrapping them in conditions that too often prove lethal. Under Australia’s regime of ‘Border Protection’, saving other lives in some other place in some yet to be realized future rationalizes the letting drown of lives that are directly before us. Taking the Janga as its starting point, this case study maps a recent Australian history of letting die at sea, one that both connects with and diverges from deaths at the borders of other settler states.

Thousands of deaths in the Mediterranean, over two decades, are not misfortunate accidents, inevitable fatalities, acts of God or of nature. They are crimes of peace.’ 

Maurizio Albahri, Crimes of Peace: Mediterranean Migrations at the World’s Deadliest Border (2015)



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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are respectfully advised that this website contains images of and references to deceased persons.

All viewers are respectfully advised that the site contains images of and references to the deaths in custody of Indigenous peoples, Black people and refugees that may cause distress.