24 Feb 2012

Rescuers praised for efforts at Christmas Island

9:04 pm on 24 February 2012

A coroner has praised the efforts of those involved in the rescue effort during the Christmas Island boat disaster of 2010.

Fifty asylum seekers travelling from Indonesia died when a storm dashed their boat onto rocks on 15 December 2010.

Western Australia coroner Alastair Hope delivered his findings on Friday.

The ABC reports he found the island did not have adequate rescue capability.

Mr Hope said the boats there were inadequate for rescuing all those aboard the doomed vessel.

And, he said, another maritime tragedy could occur unless rescue capabilities on the island are improved.

Mr Hope made 14 recommendations, including that boats more suited to rescue in rough seas be stationed at the island along with Australian Federal Police officers trained to carry out such rescues.

Mr Hope also recommended better surveillance of waters off Christmas Island.

Mr Hope praised the efforts of residents and personnel from HMAS Pirie who were able to rescue the survivors.

He said without their bravery it was likely all but one of the passengers would have perished.

After the tragedy, only 30 of the 50 bodies were recovered from the water.

Mr Hope concluded they had drowned but said he was unable to say absolutely how the remaining 20 had died.

The ABC reports the tragedy was the largest loss of life in Australian waters in peace time in 115 years.

The inquest ran for about eight months and heard from dozens of witnesses in Perth and on Christmas Island.

Mr Hope commented that people smugglers contributed to the deaths by boarding 89 passengers on Siev 221 which was in poor condition, overcrowded and did not carry enough life jackets.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith said the federal government will consider the coroner's recommendations.