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Tuesday, 28 August 2001
Page: 30359


Mr HAASE (2:03 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister inform the House of the government position in relation to the current status of the MV Tampa and the people on board?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I am sure the House would be aware of the circumstances whereby the Norwegian vessel Tampa rescued 434 prospective unauthorised arrivals from their disabled vessel north of Christmas Island on Sunday, 26 August. Having rescued the individuals, the freighter was proceeding to the Indonesian port of Merak at the direction of the Indonesian search and rescue authority. We understand that the freighter subsequently turned back to Christmas Island at the insistence of the rescued individuals.

The government has requested that the Tampa not enter Australian territorial waters and that it should continue on its original route to Indonesia. That position has been repeated in exchanges between the Australian government and the government of Indonesia. We continue to seek the assistance of the Norwegian and the Indonesian governments to secure an acceptable solution for all concerned.

I can confirm to the House that Australian personnel have been flown to Christmas Island by C130 Hercules to provide any humanitarian assistance, such as food, water, medical supplies and safety equipment, that may be required. A doctor on Christmas Island is available to provide medical assistance. And the government is in the process of sourcing a helicopter with winching capacity to transfer any necessary supplies or other assistance from Christmas Island to the Tampa if necessary.

I have been informed that the master of the vessel—and this has been the subject of some comment in the media this morning— has not requested any security assistance from Australia in relation to activity on board the vessel. This vessel is a very large container vessel built in 1984. It has a very substantial capacity. It is partly a roll-on, roll-off vessel. Whilst the conditions on the vessel would obviously not be comfortable, it is a very large vessel and, of course, significantly larger than many of the craft on which unauthorised arrivals have come to Australia.

I should also inform the House that the government has decided to deploy HMAS Arunta to the Christmas Island vicinity. I understand it will leave Fremantle later this afternoon or early this evening and be within the Christmas Island area within a few days.