2001 Maritime

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August 29, 2001

Norwegian Shipowners outraged by Australian action
"We are shocked by the Australian response to the Mayday signal from Tampa," says Rolf Sæther, Director General of the Norwegian Shipowners' Association.

"Tampa sent out a Mayday signal this morning. The vessel was 12 nautical miles off the Australian Christmas Island. A Mayday signal is the most serious distress signal a vessel at sea can send.The law of the sea requires that all vessels or persons who are able, assist
ships in distress," he continues.

"The Australian response to the distress signal was not one of assistance.The response was sending armed troops on board, asking the ship to leave Australian waters. Having sent a Mayday signal, the vessel is of course in no condition to go out to sea again," says Sæther.

"Ships responding to distress signals, like Tampa did when rescueing 438 people, should be confident that countries and the international society will be giving the assistance necessary.

"We urge the Australian authorities to assist the vessel in distress, and to take the people who were rescued at sea by Tampa, ashore. The humanitarian conditions onboard Tampa are extreme, and Australian authorities should act accordingly," concludes Sæther.

ITF says Australia places Tampa crew at "unacceptable risk" 
Commenting Tampa incident, International Transport Federation (ITF) General Secretary David Cockroft said: "We understand the difficult position the Australian Government finds itself in, but ask it to face up to its urgent humanitarian duty. That means allowing the Tampa to proceed to Christmas Island. Until that happens the crew are being put at an unacceptable risk - as are the asylum seekers and the ship itself.

"Any other course of action would set a terrible precedent by risking a situation where crews would feel unable to pick up anyone in distress at sea. That is almost too frightening to contemplate.

"The Australian Government cannot put seafarers in the position of having to decide who is a refugee and who is an economic migrant. Seafarers have to be free to help those in distress and leave such questions to national authorities.

"The ITF unreservedly condemns the horrible trade in human lives and - whether or not it was the case here - the appalling practice by of sinking people-smuggling boats when a ship comes in sight. Our call to the Australian Government to accept this ship does not absolve the Indonesian Government of the duty to police its waters and crack down on this horrible trade. The Australian Government will be fully justified in expecting Indonesia's full cooperation in tracking down the people responsible.

"We also call on IMO Secretary General William O'Neill to use his good offices to help get this problem resolved."