New York Times - Ships and Shipping

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Boatpeople 'threatened self-harm' on ship, forcing worried skipper to change course


MV Parsifal 
Asylum-seekers rescued by the MV Parsifal are dropped off at Christmas Island. Source: The Australian

A GROUP of rescued asylum-seekers threatened self-harm unless a merchant ship changed course to take them to Christmas Island, the vessel's owners say.
The Wallenius Marine shipping line today said the 67 asylum-seekers picked up near Indonesia early on Tuesday were not physically aggressive towards the crew of the MV Parsifal, clarifying initial reports and potentially defusing a political brawl over the incident.
The company says after being told the MV Parsifal was headed for Singapore, “the survivors became agitated and threatened self-harm”, causing the ship's master to become concerned for his vessel and crew.
“While the survivors' demeanour was agitated and the master was concerned that they could pose a security threat to the Parsifal's crew and vessel, there was no physical aggression,” the shipping line said.
The account of the rescue emerged as Australian authorities said they had last night intercepted another boat, this one carrying 63 suspected asylum-seekers, northwest of Christmas Island.
The Coalition earlier demanded a criminal investigation into the diversion of the MV Parsifal, after Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare declared the asylum-seekers were “very aggressive”.
Tony Abbott described the turn of events as a “reverse Tampa incident”, recalling special forces' boarding of a merchant ship in 2001 to stop it disembarking asylum-seekers.
“John Howard met the Tampa with the SAS,” the Opposition Leader said. “This government has met the Parsifal with a welcoming committee.
He said that “something dire” had happened aboard the vessel, and it should have been met on Christmas Island by the Australian Federal Police rather than immigration officials.
“It is unlawful to intimidate the captain of a ship. On the basis of what we were told by (Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare) today an unlawful act has occurred at sea, and that should be dealt with by police.”
Mr Clare had suggested the vessel's crew had been threatened.
“(The Parsifal) then intended to head to its original destination of Singapore but when the people on the ship heard that they got very aggressive and the master of the ship made the decision not to go to Singapore but to go to Christmas Island instead,” he said.
“It shows you just how dangerous it can be out on the high seas when you've got desperate people doing dangerous things.”
The MV Parsifal, the world's joint largest roll-on roll-off carrier, was diverted to rescue the asylum-boat early on Tuesday after responding to a request from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
The ship took 67 survivors on board about 6.50am.
Mr Clare confirmed a 68th asylum-seeker who had been on the original vessel was presumed dead after falling overboard prior to the rescue.
In a twist to the saga, the MV Parsifal is the sister ship to the MV Tampa, which was involved in a 2001 standoff with the Howard government that led to the original Pacific Solution.
Then-prime minister John Howard ordered special forces to board the Tampa to stop it unloading 433 asylum-seekers at Christmas Island.
Julia Gillard, who has announced the resumption of key elements of John Howard's Pacific Solution, declined to comment specifically on the incident.
But she said illegal acts would not be tolerated.
“If there is any breach of any relevant laws then of course it's got to be investigated,” the Prime Minister said.
“If anyone engages in unlawful conduct then that should be acted upon.”
Earlier, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said what had occurred aboard the MV Parsifal was “an outrageous act of, potentially, piracy”.
“What we have here is the asylum-seekers dictating terms to this government and every time they lean against this government, this government folds like a deck of cards, and I think that is just an indictment on a government who may well want to embrace some of the Coalition's policies,” he said.
Source: The Australian, Australia.

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