Monday, May 10, 2010

Customs Slammed Over Response To Stricken Boat

Refugee advocates say they are astounded authorities did not do more to help a stricken boat of Sri Lankan asylum seekers off the Western Australian coast. Customs officials say they were advised the boat carrying 64 people had run out of fuel, food and water while heading to Cocos Island on April 30. They say a passing merchant ship provided assistance and reported they were in good health and their vessel was seaworthy. Customs spokesman Phil Mayne says the boat was expected to arrive at Cocos Island on Wednesday, but a search was launched when it failed to turn up. He says a spotter plane located the vessel 160 nautical miles west of Cocos on Thursday, and Customs alerted four ships in the area to try to reach the vessel.A Russian ship reached them on Friday and was told that five people were missing, presumed dead, after they set out to swim for help. Ian Rintoul from the Refugee Action Coalition, says the response by authorities appears inadequate. "It does seem that there has been a real lack of responsibility by the authorities not to have sent a boat out immediately," he said. "They knew it was in trouble, they knew it was without food, they knew it was without fuel. To have left people on the sea in those conditions is inexcusable." He says it is a tragedy. "We're devastated, really, to hear that kind of news," he said. "The authorities were aware of the boat quite some time ago. "For people to be left in a situation that people have made [a] desperate swim in the sea for help is a terrible, terrible thing to happen."

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