MV Tampa rescues 438 survivors - now forbidden to land them anywhere : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Stalemate over Afghan refugee ship Tampa By Rajesh Joshi and Kevin Chinnery-Wednesday August 29 2001

THE Norwegian ship carrying 438 mainly Afghan refugees remained anchored off Christmas Island yesterday, as Australia, Indonesia and Norway continued to reject them and international aid organisations urged action.

The refugees had become restive, going on hunger strike and threatening to jump off Wilh Wilhelmsen’s 44,014 dwt ro-ro Tampa if she proceeded to any destination other than Christmas Island. Tampa master Arne Rinnan said: “The tension is increasing down there. As long as they see Christmas Island, they are behaving quietly.” Mohammad Ali, a spokesman for the asylum seekers, said: “A lot of people here have been in prison and persecuted in their country and they do not have any hope.”

The Tampa had rescued the refugees from a sinking boat on Sunday. Indonesia had said earlier yesterday that it might allow the refugees temporary asylum if Australia stuck to its refusal. But the country’s foreign minister, Hasan Wirajuda, later reversed this position. In Oslo, foreign minister Thorbjorn Jagland said: “Let me make it quite clear, our understanding is that Australia has a duty to let these refugees land at the nearest port. The humanitarian situation is critical.”

Norwegian foreign ministry spokesman Karsten Klepsvik said the situation was going “from bad to worse”, and Norway “did not have too much hope” that its discussions with Australia will bear fruit. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration said they were concerned that gen- uine asylum seekers fleeing persecution might be involved and urged the governments find a swift solution.

The controversy has intruded on international negotiations over eight aid workers detained in Kabul. “A new point in the discussion with the diplomats was the fate of stranded Afghan migrants [near] an island close to Australia,” said Abdur Rehan Hotak, chief of the consular department in the Taliban foreign ministry.

In the early hours of yesterday morning, Royal Australian Air Force freighters flew to Christmas Island with supplies, medical aid and personnel, which will be taken to the ship. A source on the island said the ship is north of the island in the Sunda Strait area, out of sight but within radio range. Although there is a possibility of food aid, the Tampa is understood to have enough food supplies. The emphasis will be on medical aid, “to help those who may be sick or suffering”, the source said. Two of the 26 women on board are pregnant and many of the refugees were dehydrated when rescued. Meanwhile, Wilhelmsen spokesman Hans Christian Bangsmoen said the situation onboard was getting desperate. One person had a broken leg, there were several cases of diarrhoea, and medical supplies were running short.

From CNN News August 27, 2001 Posted: 2:19 PM HKT (0619 GMT)

CHRISTMAS ISLAND, Australia -- The Australian Government has refused a Norwegian ship, carrying more than 400 asylum seekers, permission to enter Australian waters.

It is the first time Australia has rejected boat people and it may test now-friendly relations between Australia and Indonesia. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports Prime Minister John Howard saying the decision was taken after it emerged the ship's captain was threatened and ordered to head to Australia, when the nearest port was in Indonesia.

It is believed five of the 434 asylum seekers aboard the the cargo ship, which had rescued them from an Indonesian ferry, forced the captain to head for the Australian territory of Christmas Island. "They were talking in aggressive and a highly excited voices and were really threatening a little bit,"Captain Arne Rinnan said. "They flatly refused to go back to Indonesia and they were threatening to jump overboard."

Prime Minister Howard said that under international law, the matter was something that must be resolved between the government of Indonesia and the government of Norway. So far there has been no reaction from Indonesia or Norway. The asylum seekers were picked up in Indonesian waters and under international law should have been taken to the nearest feasible port, Merak in Indonesia.

Ship off Christmas Island The ship is now anchored 17 nautical miles northwest of Christmas Island with a cargo of increasingly angry and desperate people, some of whom are suffering from scabies and diarrhoea.

Captain Rinnan said his ship's lawyers had instructed him not to discuss the problem. He said: "I don't know what will happen. That's all I can tell you." Prime Minister Howard said there was a clear obligation under international law for the rescued passengers to be taken to the nearest feasible point of disembarkation, which would be Merak. `I further understand that arrangements had already been tentatively put in place by the Indonesians to receive those people,'' he said. Howard said Australia would offer humanitarian help, but the nation must send a clear message to those seeking to come to Australia.

Course changed to protect crew We simply cannot allow a situation to develop where Australia is seen around the world as a country of easy destination irrespective of the circumstances, irrespective of the obligation of others under international law and irrespective of the legal status of the people who would seek to come to Australia," Howard said.

The Norwegian-registered cargo ship Tampa took aboard 434 mostly Afghan asylum seekers and five Indonesian crew after answering a distress from their stricken boat on Sunday, Australian Search and Rescue spokesman Ben Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the Norwegian cargo ship was directed to head for Indonesia, but the Tampa's master sent a message saying he had changed course to protect his crew. "The message received was 'In the interest of the safety of my crew, I have decided to sail to Christmas Island and disembark the survivors," Mitchell said.

He said the Tampa, answered an SOS signal marked out on the deck of a boat in Indonesian waters about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Christmas Island. "The vessel appeared to have lost propulsion and was drifting," Mitchell said.

More boatloads expected Christmas Island and Ashmore reef, a collection of atolls off Australia's remote northwest coast, are the two most popular points for boats carrying would-be immigrants from Indonesia to Australia. Christmas Island is about 1,500 kilometers west of Australia, but is the closest Australian port of entry from the Indonesian island of Java, which lies 350 kilometers to the north.

Meanwhile, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio said on Monday another boatload of some 500 people was expected to arrive later Monday on Christmas Island.

The surge in numbers of boat people arriving on Australia's north-western doorstep in the past two weeks is putting considerable pressure on the facilities at Christmas Island, and on detention centers for asylum-seekers in Australia. Australia maintains a strict policy of mandatory detention for all unauthorized seaborne arrivals while their eligibility to remain in Australia is assessed -- a process that can often take three months and sometimes more than a year. Australia currently holds about 2,500 asylum seekers, including up to 500 children, in nine camps.

Conditions far from ideal But these numbers are now to be swelled by approximately another 2000 with still more boatloads expected to depart Indonesia in favorable weather. The Government has announced plans for a further 3000-plus detention places using existing Australian defense facilities on the mainland, but many of these places will not be available for several weeks.

Conditions in the exisiting camps are already far from ideal, with many detainees protesting their detention by rioting, going on hunger strikes, mutilating themselves and attempting suicide. While most Australians accept that the government must do its best to control the growing influx, there is growing disquiet about conditions in the detention camps.

Australia's Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock is adamant however that no matter how many boatloads of would-be refugees arrive, the policy of mandatory detention will be maintained. Ruddock said work would start immediately at a Department of Defense facility at Singleton in the state of New South Wales and at El Alamein near Port Augusta in South Australia to prepare contingency immigration detention capacity.

-- Rich Marsh (, August 30, 2001


Blow to Australian PM over refugees More than 400 refugees are on board the Tampa

The Australian Government has failed to secure new emergency powers that would have given it legal cover to return a ship packed with mainly Afghan asylum-seekers to international waters. The government legislation was rejected by an opposition alliance in the Senate, which described it as too sweeping and politically-motivated.

The refugees were picked up on Sunday Correspondents say it is the first sign that Australia's political consensus on the crisis is weakening. The opposition Labor Party won support from smaller parties and managed to defeat the bill in a late- night sitting. But all parties still support the government's position that the Norwegian ship will not be allowed to dock at an Australian port.

Dispute with Norway Norway has reported Australia to the United Nations for refusing to allow the ship to enter its territory. The Norwegian vessel, the Tampa, rescued the asylum-seekers from their sinking ship off the coast of Indonesia on Sunday.

Australian SAS troops boarded the vessel after it defied orders to stay outside Australian territorial waters and headed towards Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Thorbjoern Jagland said the priority was to get emergency supplies to those on board and he urged Australia to stick to what he said was its international obligation.

Hundreds of men, women and children from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are crammed on to the ship's deck. Many are on hunger strike, says the captain of the ship, which is designed to carry 40 people.

Emergency aid Australia has organised an operation to provide the refugees with emergency food and medical supplies, but it remains adamant in its refusal to allow the ship to dock. Australian doctors who have seen those on board say only a handful needed medical attention. Norway has also reported Australia to the Red Cross and other international bodies, including the International Maritime Organisation. Mr Jagland said the 1951 UN convention on refugees stated specifically that refugees rescued on the high seas should be taken immediately to the nearest port. He said Norway would continue to insist that Australia accept responsibility for the 438 refugees aboard the vessel. "Our opinion is that international law is on our side," he said.

But our correspondent says that is unlikely to worry the Australian Government, which has dismissed previous criticism of its treatment of refugees by the UN. The Norwegians have also objected to Australian troops taking control of the vessel.

'Piracy' The ship's owners have accused Australia of "piracy", saying it had no right to board the ship because it represents Norwegian sovereign territory. The vessel is currently still off Christmas Island. The refugees have threatened to riot if the Tampa sails out of sight of the island.

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, said the troops had told the Tampa to head back to international waters. But he admitted the captain seemed disinclined to move, which "creates, of course, a very serious situation". Three high-speed Australian navy boats carrying 60 Special Air Services troops intercepted the Tampa after it crossed the 12-mile (20km) territorial limit.

Howard's position Mr Howard said that the Tampa had entered Australian territorial waters despite an earlier undertaking not to do so if medical assistance was given. "The SAS personnel on the vessel have put it to the captain that the appropriate thing would be for the captain to return to international waters," he said. Mr Howard, who described the situation as difficult and unprecedented, said: "Nobody is lacking in compassion with genuine refugees."

The asylum-seekers have demanded to be taken to Australia, but Australia says they should be returned to Indonesia.

The Indonesian Foreign Minister, Hasan Wirayuda, has said Jakarta will not allow the ship to dock in Indonesian territory.

The Tampa picked up the refugees as the wooden Indonesian vessel carrying them was on the point of sinking. pacific/newsid_1515000/1515882.stm

-- Rich Marsh (, August 30, 2001.

Well, I can understand Indonesia and Australia's position on this thing. We have the same situation here with Cuba and with Mexico. On the other hand, what will happen is that ships will not go to the rescue of sinking refugees. They get tied up in litagation, its time consuming and they have cargo aboard. The refugees bring disease to the crew, etc. At this point, if I were the captain, I would feed the woman and children and let the rest do their hunger strike or jump over board bit. Both of which are stupid threats IMHO. And I would take the 5 agressive Indonesians that seem to be leading this group and lock them below or let 'em walk the plank. I am sure that the capt and crew have some guns on board. If I were Capt., I would be the one giving the orders! Taz..whose great grandfather sea Captain/owner put down two mutinys with a few well placed bullets.

-- Taz (, August 30, 2001.

The following was published in the August 31 2001 edition of Lloyds List

Bid to end Tampa impasse DIPLOMATIC horse-trading and posturing were afoot in equal measure yesterday to defuse the Tampa crisis as the ship remained marooned off Christmas Island with at least 438 refugees on board, writes Rajesh Joshi.

New Zealand and Norway both expressed a qualified willingness to accept some of the refugees and Norway believed it had detected a "more realistic and reconciliatory" tone from Australia as the two foreign ministers conferred several times.

Mary Robinson, United Nations high commissioner for human rights, asked Australia to allow the Tampa to dock at Christmas Island. Australian prime minister John Howard was to meet Indonesian president Megawati Sukarnoputri in a bid to end the impasse. But Australia stuck to its guns.

Mr Howard failed to get an emergency Bill through parliament to evict the Tampa. But he told Australian television's Channel Nine that the "legal position was that a ship is not entitled to remain in Australian waters without permission".

This implied Australia's rejection of the Tampa's Mayday on Tuesday. Mr Howard questioned the genuineness of this call, claiming Australian doctors sent on board had found "none who required evacuation". Shipowner Wilh Wilhelmsen flatly rejected this claim.

Australia also continues to question Tampa occupants' claims to being refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva as well as Ms Robinson kept this matter open yesterday, saying there was no confirmation that all would qualify for this status.

But Ms Robinson said the UN's human rights convention entitled all to have their claim examined and this should be done at the "nearest port" which was Christmas Island.

Norwegian foreign minister ThorbjØrn Jagland said the country might take in some asylum seekers if the UNHCR sent such a request.

Meanwhile, Australian troops remained on board the Tampa. Wilhelmsen spokesman Per RØnnevig said the situation on deck was "slightly better" and the relationship between the crew and the troops remained "professional and correct".

But Capt Arne Rinnan stuck to his refusal to budge in the face of several Australian requests. The master was concerned that the Tampa had life-saving equipment for only 40 people, Mr RØnnevig said. He said there was food on board for six days and water for nine. But the Tampa was not producing new fresh water as she was stationary.

-- Rich Marsh (, August 31, 2001.

The following was published in the August 31 2001 edition of Lloyds List

Tampa confusion sparks calls for clarity on maritime rules

Interpretation of the law of the sea has become clouded by the impasse off Christmas Island involving Afghan refugees, writes Rajesh Joshi THE Tampa stand-off has led to calls from the shipping establishment for more 'clarity' in maritime rules to determine who should take responsibility.

But the peculiar circumstances involved mean there are few concrete suggestions.

Of course, everyone is saying all the right things. Bimco has praised the Tampa's master for acting humanely while complying with all regulations. Bimco is "deeply concerned and disappointed by the international community's behaviour".

But Bimco offers no suggestions as to who should take responsibility. International Chamber of Shipping secretary-general Chris Horrocks said it was imperative that the Tampa's refugees be allowed to disembark and her master and crew freed from their "impossible situation". He said the case highlights how often ships and crews become the "jam in the sandwich".

But Mr Horrocks was hesitant to provide possible 'solutions' for the future, since he said several facets of the Tampa case were not yet clear. The principal task right now was only to "ensure nobody is hurt and honour is satisfied", he said.

Such reticence on future steps is in broad evidence across the industry. The political angle is not lost on the industry either. Wilh Wilhelmsen and master Arne Rinnan have become unwitting pawns in international one-upmanship and voter-pleasing.

Such considerations tend to over-ride concerns such as the law of the sea, enshrined in the United Nations convention of that name. But in the Tampa case, interpretation of this law is proving difficult. Australia's territorial waters extend 12 nautical miles. Within this distance, the country can impose comprehensive controls. Prime minister John Howard has said his country has a legal right to remove any ship which is in territorial waters without permission. But Norwegian Shipowners' Association director-general Rolf Sæther argues that the Tampa had issued a mayday, which over-rides territorial claims and enjoins all ships and persons who are able to help to go and do so.

The law of the sea also asks Australia to "respect foreign vessels' right of innocent passage". But there is a clause which states that passage might not be innocent if found prejudicial to the nation-state in question. This prejudice can be introduced if the foreign ship has on board goods or people which break the laws of the land. Expert opinion is divided on whether the Tampa's human cargo can be construed in this light.

Then there is the bigger question of whether the passengers are refugees in the first place.

Australia insists they are economic migrants at best. Public opinion seems to heavily favour keeping them out. There have been letters to the editor in Australian newspapers calling the refugees "pirates and criminals".

On this backdrop, experts are far from clear whether the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees can even get involved in the case, either as a peace broker or as a law-enforcer.

The UNHCR has said guardedly that it has no confirmation that the Tampa's human cargo were asylum-seekers, but some might have genuine claims. The agency wants Australia, Indonesia and Norway to first make a proper examination possible.

The International Maritime Organisation has chosen to remain silent on the affair.

There is also a lack of public knowledge about the circumstances under which the refugees boarded the Tampa. Her master and owner have said they boarded under the auspices of the Australian rescue co- ordination centre. The master later informed the MRCC that five men had come on the bridge and threatened to jump off if he set course for Indonesia. He claims the MRCC said at that point "it was up to him what to do". He then went to Christmas Island, and was "surprised and disappointed" at being denied entry.

Given all these complications, it is inevitable that the industry's 'reactions' convey diplomatic goodwill and plenty of good intentions but few substantive suggestions.

The International Transport Workers' Federation put it best, when it observed that Australia "cannot put seafarers in the position of deciding who is a refugee and who is an economic migrant". Such questions should be left to national authorities, the ITF said. This clearly identifies the cat, but it only brings the original argument back full circle. Who will bell the cat is still far from clear.

-- Rich Marsh (, August 31, 2001.

The following was published in the August 31 2001 edition of Lloyds List

Ship in the middle

INTERNATIONAL law and conventions, as the secretary-general of the International Maritime Organisation regularly feels it necessary to point out, depends wholly on "implementation". Assent also plays a large part and, sadly, such are human nature and political reality that politicians of all complexions can usually convince themselves that laws and conventions can be set aside with impunity when it suits them to do so. "Wider issues prevail" is the usual excuse.

We saw it in Newfoundland earlier this month, when the sovereign rights of a flag state and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea were completely ignored by the Canadian judiciary and federal police force in the matter of the alleged Virgo-Starboundcollision. And we are seeing it again in the lee of Christmas Island, where the human drama a number of governments and international agencies, all waving conventions at each other and talking about the "wider issues".

Cutting through the competing nonsense from politicians with their own respective agendas, the Norwegian Shipowners' Association spelt out the situation with considerable clarity. It pointed out that the master of the ro-ro who responded to the distress signal from the sinking Indonesian boat carried out his obligations in international law to the letter. In carrying out this mercy mission he should have been able to rescue people in the expectation that "countries and international society" would relieve him of his passengers and enable him to resume his voyage as soon as possible.

But, with things cutting up rough aboard his ship 12 miles off the Australian territory of Christmas Island, the response to his distress call has been not exactly that which might have been expected. The Australians' reaction to their clear obligations to render assistance to the Tampa's distress call was to send in the army, albeit with a medical team in tow, and demand that the captain took his ship away to sea again.

While Tampa and her foredeck cargo of refugees roll gently in the blue waters of the Indian Ocean under a hot sun the politicians have cranked up their rhetoric. It was an Australian coast guard message which directed the Tampa on her original mission to the sinking ferry, points out the Norwegian foreign minister, ignorant no doubt that the SAR network is global and interactive and the message could equally well have come from Falmouth coastguard or South Africa.

There is a fierce defence of the Australian position from its foreign minister Alexander Downer, who has maintained a hard line on asylum seekers throughout and, like his prime minister, is thinking of an election to be fought in to next few months and the backlash of public opinion.

Indonesia, from where the Afghans began the latest stage of their voyage, has washed its hands of them, doubtless looking nervously at several hundred of their compatriots already on Indonesian soil. Meanwhile, conventions for the treatment of refugees, issues of marine distress and the safety of life at sea are all being ignored. It is, in short, a mess, with only the master of the Tampahaving done what international law obliges.

Of course there are "rights" on many sides. Why should the Australians be held to ransom by illegal "queue jumpers" as they call them, in league with the people smuggling criminal gangs? Why should the owners of the Tampa and their insurers and all the cargo interests have to suffer expense and delay as the politicians argue and the illegals make their threats of violence and intimidation if they do not get their way?

The wretched refugees have rights as human beings, too, deserving better as displaced people fleeing the awful regime in their native land. Shouldn't the politicians be addressing the symptoms rather than beating their breasts about the consequences of this human displacement?

And, while international law might be inanimate, it has rights too because it was painfully constructed for the benefit of us all. If it is doomed to be set aside whenever it suits "wider issues" we have a recipe for anarchy, confusion and, ultimately, no guarantee of succour for others in distress when rescuers are so severely punished.

-- Rich Marsh (, August 31, 2001.

I am not a lawyer, either, but I believe there is a miscasting of the TAMPA's "nationality" (Norwegian) as also conferring "sovereignty". As a Norwegian flag merchant ship (probably, actually, Norwegian International Ship Register - NIS) TAMPA has Norwegian nationality, is subject to Norwegian law and is to be dealt with under Norwegian law. Not being a Public Vessel, such as a naval vessel, she is not Norwegian sovereign territory, cannot claim sovereign immunity form prosecution (or boarding by the Australians!) and no claim for asylum presented to her master could be considered to have been presented on Norwegian territory or to a Norwegian authority. She is not an extension of Norwegian territory. The refugees are the responsibility of the rescuing ship but not of her flag state. If Wilh. Wilhelmsen were to succeed right now in de-flagging the ship and re-registering her in St. Vincent, the ship would still be responsible for the people and the government of St. Vincent would not accrue any responsibility.

The TAMPA did not enter Australian waters under any pretext or to do anything illegal. She sought to land persons rescued from a hazard of the sea. Therefore she was operating in Australian waters well within my understanding of the right of innocent passage. Australia's refusal to accept the people cannot convert her presence from an innocent one and negate her status under the law.

If I were the owner, right about now, and I had access to a good maritime lawyer, as I am sure they do, I would be tempted to try this tack: Australia has seized operational control of the ship in order to force it out of Australian waters. The master should immediately, and on his owner's orders, report himself as relieved of command and the owner should tender notice of abandonment to Australia as the power in possession of the ship under protest that the ship was illegally seized. The Australians could then either retain the ship and assume control of the people aboard it or they could return it to its lawful owner and leave it about its lawful business. If there was a seizure - and I do not know that there was but the Australian Navy gent who wrote probably does, they may have made a very foolish legal move by taking control of - and therefore assuming responsibility for - something they would rather be able to let go of. Seizure by a government through its military is a definitely dangerous act legally, because it is either a violation of law or it is a transfer of control to people who are trying desperately to pretend this ship and its pathetic cargo have noting to do with them. Once they have it how do they legally get rid of it?

The point made by our other Australian correspondent - that Australia is a small thinly populated country lacking resources to deal with the situation is all well and good, but must surely fall on very deaf ears aboard the TAMPA, where the universe is a whole lot smaller and being held together by people with a lot less power to do anything about it. If, in accident investigations, blame is apportioned, after consideration of the rules of the road and relative situations of the vessels involved, but resort to the question "Who had the last clear chance to avoid the catastrophe?", surely its analog applies here.

Who is in the best position to get this resolved? Who will sit by and let the people on TAMPA - refugees and crew - continue to drift in limbo? Does the TAMPA or does Australia have the best chance of being empowered to return the illegal refugees to their country of origin or to Indonesia? What liability is Australia storing up by pretending that not making a decision is not, in fact, to have made a very dangerous decision?

Charles Dragonette Alexandria, VA

-- Rich Marsh (, August 31, 2001.

Shipping industry warns that time-honored tradition of rescuing people at sea may be at risk August 31, 2001 ---------------------------------------------------------------------

With BC-Australia-Asylum-Seekers By MARA D. BELLABY - Associated Press Writer

LONDON (AP) Australia's stubborn refusal to accept a Norwegian cargo ship that rescued 438 Afghan refugees from a sinking ferry endangers the time-honored practice of saving people at sea, the shipping industry warned Wednesday.

The captain of the Tampa did his duty under international maritime law when he responded to a distress call on Monday and picked up the refugees when the ferry carrying them illegally from Indonesia to Australia began to founder, shipowners said. They charge that Australia is now violating its moral obligations. "The Tampa's captain did what he is supposed to do and maybe a little bit more. He behaved in a very, very orderly and seamen-like fashion," said Ove Tvedt, deputy head of the Copenhagen-based Baltic and International Maritime Council, which represents about 1,000 shipowners worldwide. "But now he is being barred from putting people ashore ... I shudder at the thought of what message this sends."

Shipowners are bound by international maritime law to come to the aid of any vessel in trouble on the seas - a law adopted two years after ships failed to respond quickly to distress calls from the sinking Titanic. But the shipping industry warned that a dangerous precedent already exists for ships to simply shirk their duties, particularly if they fear getting caught up in the kind of standoff currently facing the Norwegian vessel.

In the late 1980s, Vietnamese ``boat people'' were often left to die on rough seas by captains who didn't want the hassle that came with picking them up, said Chris Horrocks, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping, which represents national shipowner associations around the world. A U.S. military jury convicted Navy Capt. Alexander Balian of dereliction of duty in 1989 for failing to help a boatload of Vietnamese refugees who later resorted to cannibalism to survive.

Eventually, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees worked out guidelines for ships that encounter refugees in distress. Shipowners said that reassured the industry for a while, but in recent years, the problems have re-emerged. "This is not the first such incident ... but it has become the cause celebre because it is the first to focus so heavily on the plight of a particular ship," Horrocks said.

The Wilhelm Wilhelmsen shipping line, which owns the Tampa, said the vessel picked up the refugees - mostly Afghanis - after being contacted by the Australian coast guard. But when the Tampa then continued toward Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean to unload its new human cargo, Australian authorities banned it from entering Australian waters. The ship has since violated that ban but is still being refused permission to dock, despite the captain's pleas that some passengers require urgent medical attention and the overcrowded ship is no longer seaworthy.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard argued that the refugees were rescued in international waters and should have been taken to the closest port, which was in Indonesia.

Natasha Brown, spokeswoman for the International Maritime Organization, a United-Nations affiliated agency which provides oversight to shippers, said it is difficult to judge whether Australia has acted illegally because the laws that govern rescues at sea are so vague. "The convention is couched in terms which could be interpreted differently," she said. But Brown added that the problem probably wouldn't have arisen if the Tampa had responded to a distress call from, say, a holiday liner full of passengers who would willingly return to their home countries. "We have this totally unacceptable situation where a ship through no situation of its own has become a pawn of the debate about asylum seekers, refugees, and sociopolitical problems," Horrocks said.

Jim Davis of the International Maritime Industries Forum, an umbrella group for the shipping industry, said his sympathy lies with the boat's captain, but he warned that the refugees might have knowingly taken advantage of "the fellowship of the sea." He said the ship's captain shouldn't be made the victim ; by the refugees or an Australian government fed up with illegal immigrants. "This is a good example of the difficult situation which shipowners can find themselves in when they go and try to help people," said Basil Mavroleon of Bray Shipping, which acts as an agent for Greek shipowners.

The shipping industry said it is particularly concerned by the Tampa crew's claim that they were summoned by the Australian coast guard to rescue the refugees. But industry officials concede that while Australia may have a moral obligation to help the rescued passengers, it may not have a legal duty to do so. "This is a problem that is attacking some of the long-held traditions of the sea," Davis said. "The international community needs to address it now because it is one that certainly all the developed nations are likely to face sooner or later." mode=topics&content_src=/frames/story.shtml%3fstory=h0829212.701% 26level3=527%26date=20010831%26inIssue=TRUE

-- Rich Marsh (, August 31, 2001.

Norway To Take Refugees

Norway has agreed to take some of the 460 refugees stuck on a ship between Australia and Indonesia in the first sign of an end to the international stand-off over their fate.

The Scandinavian country claimed 11 other nations would also accept the boat people, mostly Afghans, as refugees.

The country's foreign minister Thorbjorn Jagland said he would welcome some of the people from the Norwegian-registered Freighter Tampa if he was asked to do so by the United Nations.

'We will contribute'

"We will contribute ... by taking people ... if we are approached," Mr Jagland told Sydney's Daily Telegraph newspaper. "We are one of a dozen nations which always contribute but we have to get the request from the (UN) high commissioner."

The Norwegians were dragged into the row when the Tampa rescued the asylum seekers from their sinking boat in the Indian Ocean as they attempted to sail from Indonesia to Australia, neither of which have been willing to accept them.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer confirmed talks were underway with Norway and other nations but he cast doubts on whether a further 11 nations would be prepared to accept the refugees.

'Shoulder our burden'

The UN has put forward a plan which, if approved, would see Australia allow the refugees to temporarily disembark on Christmas Island for "humanitarian reasons". They could then be screened either on Australian soil or elsewhere to determine which were genuine refugees and which were economic migrants.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has also signalled for the first time that his country may be prepared to take a share of the boat people. "We're not saying to the world we won't take refugees, we are saying ... we want to take those most necessitous refugee cases and we are prepared to shoulder our burden."

Earlier the Australian Government gave orders for one of its naval vessels to seize control of the Tampa and force it out of Australian waters. It is unclear whether troops planned to storm the Tampa's bridge and relieve its captain of his duties or tow the ship into international waters.

The Australian Government has warned the military option will be used if the continuing diplomatic consultations failed to resolve the five- day old impasse. However Indonesia's military has said it is also poised to enforce its government's ban on the Tampa if it tries to sail into Indonesian waters

Last Modified: 21:03 UK, Friday August 31, 2001,,30200- 1028130,00.html

-- Martin Thompson (, August 31, 2001.

The following was published in the August 31 2001 edition of Lloyds List

Australian version of events looks increasingly leaky

By Kevin Chinnery in Sydney and Graham Nowland in Fremantle AS MORE information on events surrounding the Tampa crisis emerges, so the Australian government's position appears to become weaker.

The Wallenius Wilhelmsen ro-ro was only about four hours steaming from Christmas Island when she rescued 450 Afghan boat people on Sunday. The company has confirmed that the rescue took place at 9 degrees 32.5 minutes south and 104 degrees 44 minutes east, or about 86 miles northwest of Christmas Island.

The Australian government is basing its controversial refusal to take the refugees on the argument that Christmas Island is technically in the Indonesian search and rescue zone and that Merak is the closest Indonesian port within the zone.

Merak is almost 200 miles from the rescue location. The port is an offshore supply base normally handling vessels up to 2,000 tonnes. The Tampadisplaces 49,000 tonnes but could possibly berth on pylons there and use her ramp and gangways.

Australian immigration minister Phillip Ruddock claimed on Monday that the rescue point was closer to Indonesia than Christmas Island. Prime minister John Howard told the same press conference Merak was the "only feasible port" of disembarkation.

Christmas Island's location in the Indonesian SAR zone is viewed as an anomaly and informed sources on the island say that in practice any search and rescue activity in the area is done by the Australians. The Australian government has now classified the original broadcast fax sent out by the Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Canberra requesting ships to assist with the distressed refugee vessel. A spokesman for the MRCC said that the document, broadcast last Sunday, was now in the hands of Australia's National Security Committee.

Three ships responded to the faxed request but Tampa was the closest. It is also becoming clear that Christmas Island was likely to be the only practical source of assistance.

In his first interview with Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday, Captain Arne Rinnan said that the MRCC had told him by phone that "it was entirely my decision as to where I will proceed with these people". The MRCC had made the comment after Capt Rinnan had reported that the refugees were becoming aggressive. "We was ( sic) informed by MRCC Australia that it was entirely my decision - if I felt threatened I should proceed wherever I want," Capt Rinnan repeated during the interview.

Past incidents in the area, such as the sinking of the Indonesian vessel Sulteng 1last year 125 km north of Christmas Island, also suggest that Indonesia is not actively involved in search and rescue co-ordination. Sources on Christmas Island say that even in the areas technically under Indonesian control, Australian resources are largely used to for patrol and search work. Search operations are described as "co-operative". However, the Indonesians "usually have little input but are kept informed of Australian efforts in the area as a matter of protocol", said an SAR source.

This makes it even more likely that Capt Rinnan would view Christmas Island as the nearest source of help.

On Tuesday the Tampa declared herself in distress and entered Christmas Island waters, with Capt Rinnan saying it was no longer possible for the ship to leave for international waters. She was subsequently boarded by Australian SAS troops. Capt Rinnan said advice from the Norwegian radio medical service on refugee symptoms was not promising, which caused him to send the Mayday and move into Australian waters. Wallenius Wilhelmsen says the ship is effectively immobilised because it cannot be certificated or equipped to put to sea again with that number of passengers on board. The number of refugees has been recounted at 450, not 438.

The frigate HMAS Arunta is due to arrive at Christmas Island today, possibly to deal with more boat people arrivals with 5,000 people believed to be in the pipeline in southeast Asia.

-- Rich Marsh (, September 01, 2001.

Agreement on Asylum Seekers Reached By GEOFF SPENCER, Associated Press Writer Saturday September 1 5:34 AM ET

CHRISTMAS ISLAND, Australia (AP) - New Zealand and the Pacific island state of Nauru agreed Saturday to accept more than 400 asylum seekers stranded on a cargo ship in the Indian Ocean, breaking a six-day diplomatic deadlock over the fate of the refugees. The asylum seekers - mostly Afghans - were adrift in a leaky Indonesian ferry when the Norwegian cargo ship Tampa rescued them on Monday. But when the freighter tried to deliver them to remote Christmas Island, Australia refused to accept them.

When the Tampa ventured closer to the port on Wednesday, Prime Minister John Howard ordered elite commandos to storm the ship. Widely criticized for the action, Australia engaged in frenzied negotiations with other countries to solve the crisis while still saving face by not allowing the migrants to come ashore. Howard rejected a U.N. plan proposed Friday that would have involved the group disembarking temporarily on Christmas Island. The agreement Saturday calls for 150 of the estimated 460 refugees to go New Zealand. The remainder would go to Nauru, a tiny island about 4,500 miles east of Christmas Island.

Australia would bear the cost for Nauru, Howard said. Australia is a major trading partner for Nauru, an 81/2-square-mile island with a population of less than 12,000. The major industry there is phosphate mining. Howard said he had informed the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees of the plan after the speaking on the phone with New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and Nauru president Rene Harris.

There was no immediate public reaction from the UNHCR.

Clark said in a statement that those sent to her country and found to be genuine refugees would be allowed resettlement as part of New Zealand's annual refugee quota. Those going to Nauru and found to be genuine refugees would be resettled in third countries, including Australia, she said. ``New Zealand will be working closely with Australia and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees to arrange transhipment of the refugees to New Zealand,'' she said.

Though Howard had earlier insisted that none of the asylum seekers would be allowed into Australia, he said Saturday that some who are found to be genuine refugees may be allowed to apply for residency.

Norway's ambassador to Australia, Ove Thorsheim, visited the freighter on Friday and said the refugees appeared to be in good condition, although three people were being treated for dehydration. Most, he said, were determined to go to Australia. ``They are very tired. They have been on the run from one month up to eight months,'' Thorsheim said. ``They are very determined to come to Australia. Nowhere else will do.''

Australia is a popular destination for refugees, mainly from the Middle East and South Asia, because they believe courts there are generous in granting visas. It was not clear how the refugees would be transported to New Zealand and Nauru. Shipping line Wallenius Wilhelmsen, which owns the Tampa, said the freighter was in no condition for such a voyage, and legally could carry only 40 passengers.

Australia is now trying to find third countries that will allow the asylum seekers to transit through on their way to New Zealand and Nauru. The government has not yet explained how it will get the asylum seekers off the ship. Howard, who is seeking re-election this year amid popular resentment over the flood of asylum seekers, maintains his determination to keep the migrants from touching Australian soil will send a signal to people-smuggling gangs.

Last year, more than 4,000 people arrived illegally on Australia's shores through the people smuggling networks. Most came from the Middle East via Indonesia. Howard's critics say his tough stance is a cynical political exercise ahead of the national elections, expected in November or December. Most major opinion polls show the government likely to lose the election.

All of Australia's major churches and human rights groups pleaded with the government to allow the migrants to land. On Christmas Island, hundreds of residents staged a demonstration Friday, demanding Australian authorities relent. ``The government has to stop what has become a circus to win the racist vote at the next election,'' said protest organizer Gordon Thomson. Many in the crowd were angry that their small port had been closed by the military, stopping them from going fishing.

-- Rich Marsh (, September 01, 2001.

Australia to ferry boat people to PNG


CHRISTMAS ISLAND (Reuters): Australia said on Sunday that a naval troop carrier would ferry hundreds of stranded asylum seekers to whom it denied entry to Papua New Guinea, on the next stage of their odyssey.

Prime Minister John Howard told a Sydney news conference that the 433 mainly Afghan boat people would then be flown on to New Zealand and the tiny Pacific island of Nauru, which have agreed to take them in and process their asylum applications.

"Agreement has been reached with the government of Papua New Guinea for the transshipment of the people from the Tampa through (its capital) Port Moresby and then by aircraft to both Nauru and New Zealand," Howard said.

A spokesman for Howard told Reuters earlier that the HMAS Manoora, which earlier arrived off Australia's Christmas Island, would take the migrants off the Tampa, the Norwegian freighter that rescued them from a sinking Indonesian ferry on August 26.

"The Manoora is in position ready to begin taking people off the Tampa this afternoon," Howard's spokesman told Reuters. The Manoora was expected to leave for Papua New Guinea on Monday.

Australia, where immigration is an election-year issue, and Indonesia both refused entry to the asylum seekers, who began a second week on the freighter on Sunday.

Witnesses on Australia's Christmas Island watched as helicopters began ferrying supplies out to the troop carrier. Pillows, blankets and medical supplies lay stacked by the runway at Christmas Island's airport.

The United Nations had urged Howard's government to let the asylum seekers land on Christmas Island on humanitarian grounds. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan chided its refusal to do so. "It is not an ideal situation and I feel for the refugees who are on this ship in the heat, in containers," he said in South Africa.

But Howard's government, already grappling with crowded camps housing asylum seekers, stood firm.

QUEUE JUMPERS Ministers denounced illegal immigrants as queue jumpers and said that letting the 433 land would give them the right to stay in Australia, while their applications were processed.

The Manoora, an amphibious transport ship, is able to carry 400 troops as well as its own crew of 180 and four helicopters over long distances. One Australian newspaper, The Sunday Telegraph, said that the Manoora could pull alongside the Tampa, lower its landing ramp to connect with freighter's roll-on, roll-off ramp and allow the migrants to walk across.

The Tampa, secured by Australian troops four days ago, lay in Australian waters close to Christmas Island, which is 340km south of Indonesia and 1500km west of the Australian mainland.

The Tampa's owner, shipping line Wallenius Wilhelmsen, had ruled out moving the freighter with the asylum seekers on board saying it was not equipped or insured to carry those numbers at sea.

Earlier, an Australian court slapped an injunction on moving the asylum seekers or the Tampa while it ruled on whether the boat people had been unlawfully detained and if they had the right to apply for refugee status in Australia.

But Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock played down the hearing, which was initiated in the federal court in Melbourne by the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties. "At the moment they are outside the immigration zone and they have no entitlement to access Australia but if they were brought into the migration zone, that is, Christmas Island, that would automatically engage our legal system and we would not be able to remove them," Ruddock told reporters. Tens of thousands of Afghans have fled conflict and the purist Islamic rule of Afghanistan's Taliban. Many are crammed into refugee camps in Pakistan.

Howard, facing a tough year-end election, has received strong public support for his hardline stance with Australians increasingly concerned about rising numbers of illegal entrants. About 5000 illegal immigrants arrive in Australia each year with the help of people-smuggling gangs, a small number by some international standards but a massive rise from the 600 of a decade ago.

A survey by pollster Rehame of talkback radio found 78 percent support for Howard's tough stance when the crisis started a week ago with support waning mid-week when Australian troops stormed the Tampa but rising again as a solution was found. "There's now overwhelming support back again for the government, in the high 50s," said Rehame spokesman Peter Maher. "That is a level of support you don't often see for a decision by a government."

For details of H.M.A.S. Manoora, the naval ship planned to transfer the people from Tampa and to take them to Port Moresby, click on:-

-- Rich Marsh (, September 02, 2001.

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