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Title Four Corners: A Totally Avoidable Tragedy
Published Australia : ABC, 2009
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Description 1 streaming video file (43 min. 51 sec.) ; 265898237 bytes
Summary The shocking story of the Malu Sara, an immigration vessel that sank in the Torres Strait killing five people. Reporter Debbie Whitmont investigates the sinking and asks why an experienced patrol officer was told to put to sea in gale force winds, in a boat not built to deal with the conditions. The program also reveals that the skipper of the vessel had never been adequately trained to use equipment on the boat, which might have saved him and his passengers. "There was overwhelming evidence that this particular boat was unseaworthy, was completely unsuitable for its purpose and was always going to sink, it was just a matter of how long it would take to sink." Tracy Fantin, lawyer representing Wilfred Baira.At midday on the 14th October 2005, the immigration vessel Malu Sara left Saibai Island in the Torres Strait heading for Badu Island. The journey should have taken four hours. Sixteen hours later the boat disappeared. Five people drowned and only one body was ever found. It's now clear the skipper of the Malu Sara, Wilfred Baira, made the fatal journey only after he was pressured to do so by a superior officer. That pressure came despite concerns the boat had been taking in water while docked and despite the knowledge that the vessel did not have a sea-worthiness certificate for its use on the open sea. But the story of this tragedy involves far more than a misguided command. Using the evidence of work colleagues, experts and the families of those who died, Four Corners reporter Debbie Whitmont details the litany of errors that led to the sinking of the boat. "The circumstances of the loss of the people on the Malu Sara are as wretched as any I have been exposed to." Michael Barnes State Coroner, Queensland.For the Malu Sara and its crew, the first problem was its design. According to an experienced boat builder who tendered to build the craft and its five sister ships, the project was not properly funded. "The project was underfunded from the word go. They couldn't possibly have vessels to do the job safely for the price that was allowed." Bill Collingburn, boat builder.Those financial pressures meant that when the boat was finally built by another firm, the water-tight compartments built into the craft were not properly sealed. All this should have been exposed by expert testing. This was never done. Instead the boats were commissioned with a compliance certificate that was worthless. Ultimately these flaws in the boat's design and construction might not have been fatal had the craft been fitted with appropriate equipment. But the Malu Sara was commissioned without a GPS, two-way radio or appropriate maps. When a marine supplier involved asked why the vessel, that would be used by an indigenous crew, was not being fitted with that equipment he was told by a departmental official: "We won't be needing that... these guys are two generations behind. (They) wouldn't be able to use it." The problems did not end with the Department of Immigration. When the skipper of the Malu Sara made it clear the boat was in trouble, the search and rescue operation was bungled. It appears that key personnel in the Queensland police and in the nationally co-ordinated rescue service AUSSAR did not take the messages of distress seriously. "If there had been an appropriate response at any time within that time period then one would have expect that lives would have been saved rather than lost." Mark Green, Barrister for the families of the deceased.For the people of the Torres Strait there are two key questions: how was this allowed to happen and why has nobody been held to account for "A Totally Avoidable Tragedy"? "People should be fried over this. It looks like we're from out here on the island, people lost their lives. Who gives a shit down there?" Laurie Nona, Badu Islander
Event Broadcast 2009-06-29 at 20:30:00
Notes Classification: NC
Subject Accident victims -- Family relationships.
Boating accidents -- Investigation.
Boats and boating -- Equipment and supplies.
Drowning victims.
Emigration and immigration -- Government policy.
Pacific Ocean -- Torres Strait.
Form Streaming video
Author Bousen, Mark, contributor
Collingburn, Bill, contributor
Fantin, Tracy, contributor
Metcalfe, Andrew, contributor
Nona, Laurie, contributor
Whitmont, Debbie, reporter
Zaro, Serai, contributor