The Tasman Bridge in Hobart, viewed from Cornelian Bay. When it was felled by an ore carrier in 1975 the cosy lifestyle of Hobart was also torn apart. Hobartians learned never to take advantage of the steel which links the eastern and western shores.

Of course no such structure could be built to span the vast sea dividing Australia and the country to its north, Indonesia. Asylum seekers are forced by necessity to risk the journey in discarded fishing and trading boats.

On 18 October 2001 a small fishing vessel left Bandar Lampung in Indonesia with about 421 asylum seekers, mostly women and children, on board. On 19 October the boat sank south of Java in stormy seas. No-one came to its rescue. 353 of those aboard died. The survivors were picked up the following day by an Indonesian fishing boat.

Although the sinking occurred in international waters, it was within Indonesia’s zone of search and rescue responsibility. It was also within a temporary Australian zone of surveillance around Christmas Island, and part of Australia’s attempt to deter people smugglers. Debate continues about whether the loss of this little boat and those on board could have been prevented – and there are even claims of high-level cover up and collusion between Australian and Indonesian officials over the affair.

Whatever the truth, the loss of so many people in what must have been terrifyingly horrific circumstances is simply a tragedy.

In early November, at Cornelian Bay, we attended a commemoration of the lives lost on that day.

In light of the current stand-off in Indonesia over the asylum seekers aboard the Oceanic Viking, the event was also an opportunity to reflect on Australia’s, and the world’s, cruel and appalling treatment of some of the globe’s most vulnerable people. It should not matter how asylum seekers arrive on shores of expected safety. All have a right to be treated in accordance with international conventions which protect their rights. When it comes to how we treat such people, Australia must improve its record or it could well have more tragedies on its hands.

The Full Article on Kate’s blog: HERE