Australia defends decision on rescue

Australia defends decision on rescue

SYDNEY - Agence France-Presse
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard defended yesterday her government’s decision to leave the bodies of drowned asylum-seekers in the ocean, as a search began for yet another vessel in the Indian Ocean.

It comes after an extensive three-day air and sea search for an asylum-seeker boat which is presumed to have capsized near the Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island with at least 55 people on board last week. No survivors were found.

Up to 13 bodies were spotted in the water, along with debris and life-jackets, but they were not recovered while the hunt for survivors was on and customs officials said June 10 they were now too busy rescuing other boats. “That is a very tough decision but it is an operational decision,” Gillard told reporters.

“As border command has made clear, they always put the highest priority on saving lives and I think we would all understand why that’s got to come first in any tasking or any work that border command does.”

Australia’s Tamil community criticized the move, saying there would be anger if the bodies of Australian victims were left in the remote waters off the Indian Ocean territory. “If they were Australians I am sure that I would be angry,” Bala Vigneswaran, executive officer of the Australian Tamil Congress, said. “I’m sure that everybody here in Australia would be very disappointed and I don’t think we would have treated Australians like this.”