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Wednesday, 17 October 1984
Page: 1922

(Question No. 929)

Senator Mason asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 31 May 1984:

(1) Did twelve nations, including Australia, in June 1983 provide US$3.6m to the Thai Government to counter the problem of armed pirates in the Gulf of Thailand, and was a further US$2.7m provided one year later for the same purpose .

(2) Were these funds expended to provide patrol boats, spotter planes, communications and computer equipment, together with funds to operate all these things.

(3) Has there been some reduction in the rate of pirate attacks on refugee boats from Vietnam, over the last year, but more than half of these boats have been attacked in circumstances involving murder, rape and kidnapping.

(4) Have pirate attacks on Vietnamese boats been prevented or observed, and have any of these attackers been imprisoned.

(5) Is the Australian Government satisfied with the progress of the program, to which more than half a million dollars has been provided by Australia.

Senator Gareth Evans —The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Yes. On 16 July the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees began an anti-piracy program with the sponsorship of twelve countries (Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States of America) with a budget of $US3.6m under the auspices of the Royal Thai Navy.

The program was continued in the 1983-84 financial year with a budget of $US2. 7m.

(2) Yes, among other things.

(3) According to the UNHCR, in 1981, of 455 refugee boats arriving in Thailand, 352 or 77% had been attacked. In 1982, of 216 refugee boats, 140 or 65% were attacked, and in 1983, of 152 refugee boats, 80 or 52% were attacked. Although there has been an obvious reduction in the rate of pirate attacks, it is still more than 50% and most of these attacks involve murder, rape, or kidnapping, and often all three.

(4) It is difficult for a third party (for example, the Royal Thai Navy) to observe or prevent an actual attack on a refugee boat, given the large area of the Gulf of Thailand, limited resources and the large number of boats in the region.

The extent to which attacks have been prevented is a matter of conjecture, but the decline in the attack rate seems to indicate that the UNHCR's program and the Royal Thai Navy are having a useful impact in this direction.

In March 1984, four Thai fishermen were charged with rape, abduction and robbery following an attack on a Vietnamese refugee boat in the Gulf of Thailand between 27 June and 3 July 1983. They were convicted and sentenced to eighteen years jail each, commuted to nine years after the they pleaded guilty on each count.

(5) The Government is satisfied that all parties involved in the program to suppress piracy in the Gulf of Thailand are making efforts under sometimes difficult circumstances, and looks forward to further progress.