News & Current Affairs
12 March 2015
Vietnamese boats 'unseaworthy', government sources say
Two of the Vietnamese fishing boats in a Darwin boat yard.
The fleet of brightly coloured wooden Vietnamese fishing boats that the Australian government will use to turn back asylum seekers are unseaworthy and ethically wrong to use, marine sources in Darwin say.
A government official and a local fisher say they were shocked at the building standards of the 20-metre green, blue and red fishing boats that will replace the garish orange lifeboats that were deemed "unsinkable".
"The first boat the shipyard launched sank, and it had to be retrieved with a crane," the government worker said.
"The materials are a really poor quality as well as the craftsmanship. They are completely unsafe and not a passenger boat.
"My gut feeling was that it wasn't ethical or moral to put people on these boats. You wouldn't do it to Australian citizens."
Shipbuilders working in Darwin also felt uncomfortable at the idea of sending asylum seekers back in the boats that have no marine safety standards, the government worker said. This includes the stability of the boats, their structural integrity and whether they could handle rough conditions in open seas.
According to the website of Dragon Industries Asia the company was given "exceptionally tight deadlines" by the Customs and Border Protection department to deliver 10 boats on a barge to Darwin. The website says it was a "multi-million dollar project".
"This project was delivered to exceptionally tight deadlines, with final delivery of all vessels within 18 weeks of project inauguration," it says.
A commercial fisher in Darwin, who asked not to be named, said people who arrived at the Darwin marina where the 10 boats are being stored often laughed at the sight of the fleet and asked whether it was a joke.
"I tell you what, they are a piece of rubbish. I said, what is this piece of bloody rubbish?" the fisher said.
The fisher estimated the cost of keeping the boats at Spot On Marine was costing the government at least $10,000 a month.
"They just sit there and it is wasting money. They won't sink [but] they have no safety."
Fairfax Media understands the 10 boats will replace the garish orange lifeboats that can only be used once and cost the government $7.5 million last year.
A spokeswoman from the Chinese company that sells the orange lifeboats, Jiangyinshi Beihai, confirmed the Australian government has not placed any additional orders.
"We didn't receive any inquiry from Australian government," the spokeswoman wrote in an email.
In January, the commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell revealed that 15 boats seekers had been turned back since the Coalition came into power on September 2013.
A spokesman from the Customs Department said: "Customs and Border Protection uses a variety of vessels to prepare for and perform its maritime tasks."