Australia navy’s incursions into Indonesian waters took place ‘often’, report says
Indonesian navy says Australian incursions were occurring ‘more and more often’ before January 6 incident where asylum seekers were allegedly forced back and abused
The Guardian in London
Australian naval ships entered Indonesian territorial waters often and with ease before the incursions sparked a diplomatic incident in January, according to a leaked Indonesian navy report, and an Indonesian navy spokesman reiterated that the January 6 incursion was a knowing and intentional breach.
The dossier, signed off by a senior naval commander in eastern Indonesia, is an official report into the boat that landed on remote Rote island on January 6 after being turned back by the Australian navy. The report suggests three Australian naval vessels had entered Indonesian territorial waters and implies the incursion may have been intentional.
“It was too easy for the Australian warships to enter Republic of Indonesia territorial waters without detection,” the report says.
The same boat was the subject of allegations that asylum seekers on board had their hands burned by naval personnel. The report, parts of which have been seen by reporters, also contains further details on those allegations.
The report says incursions were becoming more regular: “In anticipation of the entry of Australian warships into Indonesian territorial waters, already occurring more and more often, it is necessary to increase Indonesian sovereignty in carrying out more patrols in and around the waters of Rote Ndao and Dana Island, so that foreign warships do not enter Indonesian territorial waters again,” it says.
The document provides the first official documentation that an Australian naval incursion had occurred, and shows that Indonesian agencies were aware the incursions were continuing.
Previously, Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders commander, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, had admitted to unintentional territorial breaches on “several occasions” but would not say where or when they had taken place and how many vessels had been involved.
Recent reports have indicated that about five incursions occurred between December and January.
An asylum seeker aboard the boat, Yousif Ibrahim Fasher, who detailed allegations of the burned hands to Fairfax media, also said that the accompanying Australian naval vessels had turned their lights off during the last two nights of the journey on January 4 and 5. His account also suggests that only two Australian naval vessels had accompanied the asylum seekers.
On Friday, Indonesian navy spokesman Commodore Untung Suropati told reporters the January 6 incursion was a knowing and intentional breach by the Australian navy.
Suropati said Indonesian naval intelligence showed that the Australian vessels had come within 11 kilometres of the shore on Rote island. Indonesia’s territorial waters extend to 22km.
“In the current era, navigation equipment to determine the position of a ship is very advanced. Therefore, it is not reasonable if it is said to be unintentional or not knowing,” Suropati added.
“This is not only the view of Indonesian navy, but is also shared with all other institutions and our stakeholders, especially those operating in sea, that the Australian navy has violated Indonesian territory,” Suropati said via e-mail.
While the Indonesian government seeks further clarification, Suropati says the navy has already moved to boost patrols, relocating warships, including torpedo and missile craft, to prevent further incursions.
The movement of Indonesian vessels to the southern border was widely reported in the context of incursions in January.
On Friday, a spokeswoman for Australia’s immigration minister, Scott Morrison, reiterated that the incursions occurred “unintentionally and without knowledge or sanction by the Australian government”.
On Thursday night, Australian Customs chief Michael Pezzullo also repeated that the incursions were “thoroughly inadvertent”, having read a detailed report into the incidents, which seems unlikely to be publicly released.
Morrison’s spokeswoman said the government would “advise Indonesia on the results of the joint [Defence and Customs] review undertaken into these incidents”. Commanders had “taken operational steps to ensure there is no recurrence of these incidents”, she said.
The Indonesian report also shows that the asylum seekers aboard made allegations of “acts of violence from the Australian navy” and includes more photographs of the injuries they allegedly sustained.
One photograph documents, “burn wounds on the right hand of an immigrant resulting from being forced to hold onto the ship’s engine, which was hot, by the Australian navy”.
Another shows a young female woman who, according to the image caption, was “pushed by the Australian navy resulting in a sprained ankle”.
Another image is captioned: “Right thigh of immigrant bruised as a result of being trodden on by the Australian navy.”
The report also contains the first images of the landing of the asylum seeker boat, which is described as “struck by waves on to the coral reef”. It shows a picture of the damage sustained to the hull.
The photographs relate to the widely reported allegations that a number of the asylum seekers aboard the boat were assaulted by Australian naval personnel, with three allegedly having their hands burned on the motor of the boat.
These allegations have been consistently denied by Scott Morrison and the prime minister, Tony Abbott, who said there was “absolutely no evidence for them”.
Morrison’s spokeswoman said on Friday: “The repetition of unsubstantiated and wild allegations doesn’t make those claims any more credible or deserving of further review.
“The minister has been advised there has been no request for assistance or request for information in relation to this matter from Indonesian authorities or any non-government organisation.”
The Australian government has been under pressure to mount an investigation into the claims.
Suropati told reporters the Indonesian navy’s investigation with the Indonesian police had “strengthened the existence of [evidence of] physical violence which were experienced by some asylum seekers. And this is a fact that happened.”
He said he could not comment on the status of Indonesian police inquiries.