On this day October 19, 2001

An Indonesian fishing boat en route to Christmas Island carrying over 400 asylum seekers, sank in international waters, killing 353 of them.

On 18 October 2001, a small, unnamed 19.5m by 4m Indonesian fishing boat departed Bandar Lampung, Indonesia, with 421 passengers onboard. On the 19th, the boat sank during a storm in Indonesian waters about 70km south of Java.

The area was legally international waters but within both Indonesia’s EEZ and Indonesia’s internationally designated zone of search and rescue responsibility. It also fell inside a temporary Australian border protection surveillance area around the Australian external territory of Christmas Island (which is some 1700km from mainland Australia). This latter designation was an internal planning and operational tool used by the Australian authorities to deter people smuggling.

It had no legal validity and conferred no responsibility in international law, although any Australian ships and aircraft operating there would have acted to save lives if they had known SIEV X was in peril of sinking and its location. At the time, no Australian aerial reconnaissance flights were mounted because of storm weather, the nearest Australian vessel was hundreds of kilometres away, there was confusion about various people smuggler boats, and it was thought this particular SIEV had probably returned to Indonesia.

Approximately 146 children, 142 women and 65 men died. On the 20th, 44 survivors were rescued by an Indonesian fishing boat, the Indah Jaya Makmur. A 45th survivor was rescued about twelve hours later by another boat, the Surya Terang.

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