The brilliance of the government’s tactics in using those orange boats is being refined with each time that they have to be deployed:
The asylum seekers were transferred to the Customs vessel – perhaps MV Triton, though they do not know the name. As they were loaded on board, officers were ”pushing one by one with hands behind our back”, Ali says, showing on his friend how their arms were bent into a painful position.
Any objections or requests for food and water were shouted down, no discussion entered into.
”He says: ‘Don’t speak. Shut up. F— you’,” Ali says, the others nodding. One man, Khazim Mohammad, from Iraq, was lying sick on the boat: ”The [Australian officer] said, ‘You’re joking. Liar, liar’ … and grabbed him and pulled him.”
The Indonesian crew have told Central Java police that the wooden boat was then ”blown up”. They cannot say how this happened, but speculate on a bomb.
On board the large Customs ship, interaction between crew and asylum seekers was minimal. Once their details were taken and entered on a computer, the men were given wristbands with numbers on them.
For about three days, they say they were kept below decks.
”Inside the big ship, no sun, no air. We don’t know if it’s night or day. We can’t sleep; loud noises,” says Ali.
They were fed once – cheese sandwiches – and given a cup and told to fill it up in the bathroom to drink. ”For two days we went on hunger strike.”
The Indonesian crew was kept in a separate part of the ship.
On the Customs patrol boat, Ashrof says someone searched their belongings, and all valuables – money, phone, SIM card – were taken. He does not know who took them. No phones means that, unlike on other ships, there is no video footage of their experience.
The next move, on Monday morning, was to the orange lifeboat. It was the first time they had seen it and the transfer was done in sight of land.
”The soldiers brought [us to] the orange boat … and closed the door and said to the driver of this boat … ‘Go to that island’,” Ali says.
Again the Australians would not answer questions. The Indonesians – who spoke almost no English – said it was Christmas Island. Ali did not believe them.
But there was no chance of turning back to the real Christmas Island. The crew, though experienced sailors, had never seen anything like the orange blob they now captained, and there was not enough fuel to go anywhere except to that island on the horizon.
The island, it turned out, was Java.
The lifeboats are small and inside they feel smaller. They are dark and airless with only a couple of small, high windows. Having 28 on board would have felt crowded – not everyone could have a seat, though the nameplate says it is rated for 55 people.
”No air inside and no airconditioning for the orange boat. We are very sick. We have no oxygen. We are very sick,” says Ali. ”It’s like animals. Animals [cannot be treated] like this.”
There was water on board and muesli bars.
The journey lasted only about three hours before the boat ran aground in huge seas on a rugged bay near the village of Kebumen. They were 30 metres from the beach and the surf was high, but there was little choice but to jump.
”We jumped from the boat. We are at the beach, ocean high. We arrive and drift, arrive and drift. We think we will die. We think we will die. We can’t swim,” Ali says.
Finally on the beach the exhausted men were confronted with a steep, slippery slope to climb before a local farmer found them and called the police.
The crew is now in custody being questioned by police under people smuggling laws for taking people out of the country illegally and then, at the insistence of the Australian Customs and Border Protection, back into it. The asylum seekers are bound for detention, although they don’t know where.
Some how I doubt that this group of chancers will be trying again and while I expect that the usual suspects will whine about the less that luxurious conditions in the orange boats , or the confiscation of mobile phones from this cohort but there is no escaping the simple fact that this tactic works as a way to return people who try to enter this country illegally under the pretense that they are refugees . Labor believed all of the lies that they were told because they wanted the preferences of Greens voters and the Greens were the most useful idiots to the people smuggling trade but we , the Australian people, want orderly a controlled immigration program that chooses socially useful immigrants that will help make this country a better place instead of self selectors who bring with them a legacy of self serving deceit.