Navy rescues 16 from wooden boat in Timor Sea
November 22, 2007 12:00am
IT was about 8.30am on Tuesday when the crew of the converted oil tanker Jabiru Venture, tethered in the Timor Sea about 650km west of Darwin, noticed a small, wooden boat on the horizon.
Just 45 minutes later the 10-metre vessel, its engine disabled and under a jury-rigged sail, pulled alongside the 66,000 tonne behemoth.
It was low in the water and leaking, and the 16 people aboard were clearly in trouble.
Just over the horizon, the navy landing craft HMAS Tarakan and patrol boat HMAS Ararat were on patrol for boat people, smugglers, poachers and other intruders in Australia's exclusive economic zone.
As soon as Jabiru Venture, which is a restricted security zone, called for assistance, the Border Protection Command in Canberra went into action.
The Jabiru Venture was told the navy would arrive within hours, so there would be no need to attempt a rescue.
Given the boat's condition and its lack of safety gear, this was a risky decision.
HMAS Tarakan and its 13 crew was first to arrive about noon. The Ararat, with 21 crew, arrived about 3pm.
The sailors noticed the small boat's crew and their tiny portable pump were losing the battle against incoming seawater. The three men, three women and 10 children, aged six months to 14 years, had been provided with food and water and a water pump, lowered from the Jabiru Venture, but there was not a single life vest between the 16.
“The vessel was unstable and unserviceable and the people were seasick and distressed,” a defence force spokesman said.
Ararat's skipper, Lt George McKenzie, ordered the launch of an inflatable. As they boarded the rocking vessel, six of the 16, along with two sailors, went into the water.
The remaining 10 panicked, and all wound up in the sea.
All were rescued without serious injury. They had been fitted with life vests, so there was little chance of drowning.
After a crowded night on the Ararat wrapped in blankets or dressed in overalls, the 16 were yesterday transferred to the much bigger HMAS Tobruk, where they will have health checks and be interviewed by immigration officers before transfer to Christmas Island's detention centre.