Christmas Island (Australia) + 2 more

Asylum seekers who made desperate bid for rescue on makeshift raft dead, coroner says

By Joanna Menagh

Three asylum seekers died after setting out on a makeshift raft from a sinking asylum seeker boat in 2013 in a desperate bid to get help, an inquest in the Perth Coroner's Court has heard.

The plight of the men, Mohammad Hassan, 21, Mohammad Noor, 20 and a man known as Mr Sabibullah, had come to the court's attention because the administrator of the island wanted to nominate them for a bravery award.

The men were among a group of 16 asylum seekers and three Indonesian crew members who left Java in Indonesia in January 2013 to travel to Australian waters.

The inquest was told the boat was in very poor condition and on the third day of the journey, about 31 nautical miles from Christmas Island, it broke down and started taking on water.

The boat had no radio, flares, lifejackets or satellite phone.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Lyle Housiaux, said the three men and the boat's captain then built a "makeshift raft" and tried to paddle to Christmas Island, but it broke up in a storm and the captain became separated.

The raft was made of tyre inner tubes, and four pieces of bamboo bound with rope.

In the meantime, the Australian Navy intercepted the asylum seeker boat, and the remaining passengers told officers about the four men.

The boat's captain was discovered alive on a beach on the eastern coast of Christmas Island but, despite an extensive search, the three passengers could not be found.

The captain told rescuers the raft broke up but he found a piece of driftwood and using it to stay afloat, swam towards Christmas Island.

When they found the captain he said he had been on land for four days, slept in the jungle and walked by day before being found by two locals.

But he said he lost sight of the other men.

After hearing evidence from a police officer who prepared a report on the matter, the deputy state coroner, Evelyn Vicker, said she was "satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt" the missing men were deceased.

The inquest heard the men were identified using information from the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and the Red Cross; however, their families could not be located.


Australian Broadcasting Corporation