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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 29

Mr LINDSAY (2:22 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister update the House on the safety of Australians on the cruise ship that was attacked on the weekend? What steps are the government taking to prevent such attacks in our region?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —First, I thank the member for Herbert for his question. Also, if the House will indulge me, may I say how pleased I am to see the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden here. She is enormously welcome. Let me also add that so are the mayors of Kangaroo Island and Alexandrina council, which are in the electorate of Mayo.

The cruise ship Seabourn Spirit was attacked by rocket propelled grenades and automatic weapons—we think about 150 kilometres off the Somali coast—on Saturday, 5 November. That is a bit further off the coast than we had earlier imagined. We do not know the motives of those who attacked this ship, whether they had terrorist motives in order to try to kill people or whether they wanted to rob it or even to try to highjack it. That is a matter that will be investigated and is being investigated.

Our consul from the Australian High Commission in Port Louis, in Mauritius, has now visited the ship, which is three kilometres off the Seychelles, and has confirmed that there were 22 Australians onboard the ship—19 passengers and three crew; nine male and 10 female passengers as well as the crew. Mercifully, all of the 22 Australians are safe. In fact, all of the complement of the ship is safe. Only one of the crew, I believe, was injured. That was the only injury that was sustained. Our consular officer at our high commission in Nairobi will travel to Mombassa, in Kenya, to provide assistance to the Australians who have been stranded in Mombassa as a result of the ship being diverted to the Seychelles.

My department’s travel advisory for Somalia does advise seafarers there is a risk of piracy occurring in coastal areas and territorial waters off Somalia. More than that, of course, there is a broader risk around the world. That is not to underestimate the risks of piracy—I think they are familiar to many members of the House—but possible terrorist attacks on shipping cannot be completely ruled out.

The Australian government are focused on this issue in our own immediate region. We part funded a counterterrorism exercise, called Ready Pacifica, which starts, by coincidence, tomorrow at the Pacific Forum Secretariat in Fiji. It will be the first of its kind involving Pacific countries, all of whom will participate. The exercise will focus on border security, but with particular focus on maritime security, cooperation, coordination and legal frameworks. It is important that we work with Pacific Island countries to test capabilities in responding to emerging terrorist threats and to help identify areas where the capacities of countries in our own immediate region to deal with these problems can be enhanced by the skills and capacity that we have here in this country.