Christmas Island shipwreck charges

Australia
has charged three Indonesian men with people-smuggling offences, following the
death of nearly 50 people in a shipwreck off Christmas Island.

The
three men were among up to 100 people on board the flimsy boat when it smashed
into rocks on 15 December.

The
passengers were mostly Iranian, Iraqi and Kurdish asylum seekers making their
way to Australia via Indonesia.

Coastguards
rescued 42 survivors but the bodies of at least 18 people have not been found.

The
three men – aged 22, 60 and 32 – were charged with “facilitating the
bringing to Australia of a group of five or more persons”, police said.

They
appeared in court in Perth and face up to 20 years in prison if convicted, and
a fine of up to $219,500.

The
three were not required to enter a plea, and the case was adjourned for three
weeks.

The
boat was smashed to pieces on the rocks around Christmas Island last month –
witnesses said it went down within an hour, leaving survivors struggling to
hold on to pieces of wreckage.

It
is believed the engine on the vessel failed, while island residents said the
seas were the heaviest they had seen in months.

The
charges come a day after an official report into the sinking found that the
boat – known as SIEV 221 – had only been detected by the authorities shortly before
it went down.

The
report said the Customs and navy had acted appropriately in carrying out the
rescue but recommended that the safety and rescue equipment be increased in the
area.

Christmas
Island lies in the Indian Ocean about 1,600 miles from the Australian mainland,
but only 300km south of Indonesia.

The
island is home to a detention centre housing nearly 3,000 asylum seekers who
are waiting for their claims to be processed.

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