Christmas Island Boat Tragedy
On 15 December 2010, a boat carrying around 90 asylum seekers, mostly from Iraq and Iran, sank off the coast of Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, killing 48 people aboard; 42 survivors were rescued. The boat was later named SIEV-221.
Several of the survivors from the SIEV-221 disaster and others who lost relatives in the disaster, have launched a class action against the Australian government, alleging government agents were negligent in failing to respond to the unfolding disaster quickly enough. The People's Solicitor ran this case pro bono.
Supreme Court Proceedings: Ibrahimi & ors v Commonwealth of Australia
On day one of the class action hearing the court was played amateur video footage of the stricken vessel being overwhelmed by waves as it was pushed towards the rocks of the Christmas Island cliffs. The sound of passengers screaming can be heard above the waves, before they are overwhelmed by the sound of the boat crashing into the rocks.
The court heard “communication chaos” between the navy, customs and witnesses onshore at Christmas Island had fatally delayed a rescue response. There was initial confusion among authorities about whether Siev 221 was a different asylum seeker boat (intercepted the day before) and about the exact location of the boat.
The plaintiffs argue the government had a duty of care to assist those on board the boat once it came into Australian waters, and that it was immediately apparent the unseaworthy boat, in rough conditions, posed a “safety of life at sea” situation.
Trial at first instance decided against the plaintiffs' claim. The People's Solicitors lodged appeal in 2018 June, with Senior Counsel Michael Cranitch and Barrister Shane Prince. Sadly the ruling was not overturned.
Our clients, survivors and the families , decided along with the legal team not to proceed with a final appeal to the High Court.
The hearings at the Supreme Court and its Appeal Court during 2016 and 2018 uncovered a great deal of what really transpired but left a number of disturbing questions still open. These questions remain relevant today when more refugees are undertaking current dangerous boat journeys to Australian shores on genuine circumstances and under valid international law. Australia’s inhuman policy on border protection risks even more ongoing deaths at our shores and in our waters.