Deathscapes

A Boat Called the Janga 1e - The Fatal Morning

Deathscapes

The Fatal Morning

View from above of a boat being pulled by waves towards a rocky cliff face about to crash.

[imagecaption] SIEV 221, No.322, 2014. Artist: Euan Graham. [/imagecaption]

Neither the existing resources on Christmas Island nor those of Border Protection Command [BPC] were effective in helping those aboard the Janga. It is difficult to conclude other than that the safety of asylum seekers and the provision of resources for rescuing those at risk were a lesser priority. It was island residents who immediately came to the rescue, desperately trying to help by flinging life jackets and ropes to those flailing in the water.

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From the cliffs above, residents first observed the Janga’s approach into Flying Fish Cove, on the Eastern side of Christmas Island, shortly after 5 a.m on December 15. The churning waters below the cliffs were likened by some to the inside of a washing machine. By 6 a.m. many residents had phoned emergency numbers to report the boat in distress.

Those on board the Janga also made desperate calls for help to emergency numbers in Australia, to no avail.  At least six calls were logged, but officers at the police call centre in WA seemingly did not comprehend the desperate cries for help.

Two Border Protection Command vessels, HMAS Pirie and ACV Triton, were on duty at Christmas Island that morning, tasked with patrolling the waters on the east of the island. Aboard the Triton were 108 asylum seekers who had been intercepted near the territory of Ashmore Reef (whose excision from the Australian migration zone has since been deemed illegal). The Pirie was monitoring another intercepted asylum seeker boat, assigned the number SIEV 220,  with 8 asylum seekers aboard.

The Janga’s voyage to Christmas Island took place in a charged climate in which BPC was highly alert to the possibility of several boat arrivals, and in a political environment in which each new asylum seeker boat attracted high levels of attention and blame. Yet none of the resources of BPC were devoted to ensuring the safety of possible boat arrivals. Rather, the priorities of the government and BPC were focused on the surveillance and interception of boats.

 


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