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File image of people attempting to rescue people from the capsized vessel off the coast of Christmas Island on 15 December, 2010. AP Photo/ABC

Three charged over Christmas Island boat disaster

Three men have been charged with smuggling a group of Iranian, Iraqi and Kurdish refugees to Australia aboard boat which capsized, drowning an estimated 50 people.

THREE MEN HAVE BEEN charged with smuggling offences in connection with the ship which sank off the coast of Christmas Island in December.

An estimated 50 people drowned when the ship carrying Iranian, Iraqi and Kurdish people from Indonesia to Australia’s Christmas Island sank in rough seas just off the island.

Today, three Indonesian men were charged with facilitating “the bringing or coming to Australia” of a group of 69 people, the AFP reports.

They face 20 years imprisonment and/or a fine of $220,000 (€160,000) if found guilty.

Rescue efforts were hampered by the bad weather which prevented people on the island from entering the water to help. An Australian naval vessel in the area picked up survivors, and some local boats helped recover bodies.

Report on official response

Authorities were criticised by human rights and asylum groups for failing to spot the vessel before it sank, given the level of surveillance in Australian waters. Yesterday, the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service released an internal report which exonerated the navy and customs officials from any wrongdoing in the incident.

The internal report said the authorities “did not have any actionable intelligence that would indicate the vessel that foundered at Christmas Island on 15 December 2010 had departed Indonesia or was likely to arrive at Christmas Island around that time”. The boat was first spotted by a customs officer on Christmas Island and reported less than an hour before it sank.

The report also said that “all personnel” had acted appropriately and with good judgment in reacting to the situation.

Forty-one people were rescued from the water in what the report calls “difficult conditions”, noting that visibility was reduced to 200 yards. It said some of the boats assisting in the rescue suffered mechanical breakdowns due to the ingestion of kelp or debris.

Thirty bodies were recovered from the sea, but another 20 are believed to have died in the incident.

Read the Internal Review report in full >

Read: Investigation launched into asylum boat tragedy >