REFUGEE SERIES: Christmas Island witnessed horrific shipwreck of migrant vessel

The broken propeller of the wooden ship that crashed on the rocks, killing an estimated 50 people on Dec. 15, 2010, acts as a memorial on the northern cliffs of Christmas Island in Australia. Submitted photo

KATIE DE ROSA
VICTORIA TIMES COLONIST

Christmas Island — named by the captain of a British East India Company vessel that sailed past it on Christmas Day of 1643 — is 135 square kilometres, blanketed with thick and tangled jungle. Its 120 million red crabs vastly outnumber the 1,400 people who live there. The island is a destination for nature enthusiasts, who flock there during the annual crab migration during the wet season, when the creatures carpet the roads as they crawl from the jungle to the sea.

The principal industry is phosphate mining, with a smaller slice of the economy supported by tourism.

Christmas Island’s population is mostly Malay and Chinese, with a small number of Australians. The Asian community lives around Poon San Road, where there’s an outdoor movie theatre with weathered red benches and a black-and-white, Andy-Warhol-like painting of Marilyn Monroe on the back of the screen.

The ex-pats, tourist resorts and villas are located in an area called Settlement. The single main road is lined with a snorkel and fishing shop, surf shops and the Golden Bosun pub, the watering hole where locals grab a drink and play poker after work and where tourists watch the sunset. It was from the Golden Bosun pub on Dec. 15, 2010, that island residents watched the horrific shipwreck of the SIEV 221, a migrant vessel carrying an estimated 90 to 100 people that was thrown onto the sharp rocks by violent waves.

Tanja and Chris Schonewald were at their home on Rocky Point Road when they heard a crash followed by piercing screams.

They ran around the corner toward the pub in time to see the boat being tossed around, heading for the rocks.

“People were shouting and crying,” Schonewald said. “A wave would pick the boat up and almost brought it onto the rocks. It eventually crashed onto the cliff face and then it just fell apart very quickly.”

The turquoise blue water was filled with men, women and children, desperately trying to grab onto the wooden debris of the boat that was supposed to bring them to safety.

Dozens of people watched in helpless horror, unable to climb down the cliff face to help.

“Everybody witnessed people drowning in front of us. There were so many people perishing in the water that you couldn’t number them in front of you. You would focus on one individual because you knew that person was in trouble and not able to take your eyes off them, you just knew this person was suffering.

“Little babies. My husband saw a baby die and was unable to do anything.”

On the northern cliff face overlooking Flying Fish Cove, the bent propeller of the ill-fated ship acts as a memorial.

It reads: “We will reflect on this day with sadness. The loss of each person’s life diminishes our own because we are part of humankind. As you read this, please remember all asylum seekers who have attempted this treacherous journey.”

The Times Colonist’s Katie DeRosa travelled throughout Australia and Thailand to learn more about Australia’s mandatory-detention policy and talk to refugees, in an effort to understand why they would pay a human smuggler and risk their lives getting on a boat.
She travelled to Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, 360 kilometres south of Indonesia, where hundreds of people arrive a month and where all refugees are initially held in one of two detention centres. She also visited Northam in Western Australia, where the government has just spent $125 million on a new detention centre;  the Adelaide Hills in South Australia, where refugee families are held in a suburb-like alternative detention centre called Inverbrackie; and Dandenong just outside Melbourne, where a thriving Afghan refugee community has revitalized a previously dead area. And finally, she travelled to Sydney, where an Afghan Hazara refugee has used art and the support of an Australian family to thrive in community detention.
In Bangkok, DeRosa talked to refugee families who are stuck in limbo waiting to be resettled. They live in constant fear of being rounded up by the Thai police, which refugee advocates say drives them to pay human smugglers for a spot on a boat.
DeRosa’s project is the first to be funded by the new James Travers Fellowship, created in memory of the former editor of the Ottawa Citizen and Toronto Star.

The series continues Tuesday.

Today: Canada introduces mandatory detention
Sunday: A visit to Christmas Island, the first stop for most boat refugees
Tuesday: Yongah Hill Detention Centre is refugees’ first experience of the Australian mainland
Wednesday: A young refugee is released into the community and finds his way through art
Thursday: Inverbrackie is a detention centre that looks like a suburban community
Friday: Refugees bring life back to a struggling city
Saturday: Refugees in Bangkok wait and hope for a new life

Tags: ,





Featured

New Westminster shooting Sikh Wedding

Sikh wedding shooting trial postponed for a year due to “matters that arose”

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI The trial over a prominent Surrey broadcaster’s connection with a shooting at a 2010 Sikh wedding came to an abrupt halt…
Continue Reading »

Toronto-Vancouver-Punjabi

SAFA brings “India Live” to Vancouver’s block party on Granville Street

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI Vancouver’s not-for-profit South Asian Family Association (SAFA) is bringing a new kind of festival to the downtown core that will offer…
Continue Reading »

India-Canada

Indian women’s hockey team beats Canada 4-2 in Glasgow

IANS Glasgow – The Indian women’s hockey team beat Canada 4-2 in the opening match of the Commonwealth Games here Thursday. The match started in…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

New Westminster shooting Sikh Wedding

Sikh wedding shooting trial postponed for a year due to “matters that arose”

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI The trial over a prominent Surrey broadcaster’s connection with a shooting at a 2010 Sikh wedding came to an abrupt halt…
Continue Reading »

Toronto-Vancouver-Punjabi

SAFA brings “India Live” to Vancouver’s block party on Granville Street

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI Vancouver’s not-for-profit South Asian Family Association (SAFA) is bringing a new kind of festival to the downtown core that will offer…
Continue Reading »

Surrey-weight lifter-Commonwealth Games-Glasgow

Surrey weightlifter Parm Phangura bound for Commonwealth Games

MICHAEL BOOTH SURREY NOW FLEETWOOD — 163+205=368. That stark equation scrawled in the top corner of a chalkboard means little to a casual observer, but…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

child abuse

Indian kidnappers agree to handover boy to parents on condition of swapping him for his sister

CEN AGENCY In a bizarre demand, parents of an Indian boy who has been kidnapped, were told that they could have youngster back if they…
Continue Reading »

Greece

Tipsy British tourist asked to leave church after mistaking it for a disco

CEN AGENCY A tipsy British tourist had to be asked to leave a church in Crete where he started dancing after local kids told him…
Continue Reading »

Kolkata-India-cruelty-abuse

Private tutor mercilessly beats child, CCTV footage sparks outrage (w/video)

IANS Kolkata – A shocking video of a private tutor mercilessly beating a three-and-a-half-year-old child, caught on CCTV footage, has sparked outrage across the country….
Continue Reading »

BC Sikhs

Frustrated Port of Metro Vancouver truckers want government to push companies to comply with action plan

THE CANADIAN PRESS VANCOUVER — Drivers servicing the country’s largest port urged government on Monday to take swift action against trucking companies, which they say…
Continue Reading »

Rashida Samji

B.C. Securities Commission finds Vancouver woman who ran a Ponzi scheme committed $100 million fraud

ALMAS MEHERALLY VANCOUVER DESI VANCOUVER – A B.C. Securities Commission panel has found that a Vancouver woman and two companies she controlled committed a $100-million fraud….
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Desi beauty

Gallery: Bollywood beauty Aishwarya Rai at Commonwealth Games opening ceremony

VANCOUVER DESI Longines Ambassador of Elegance Aishwarya Rai Bachchan attended the Opening Ceremony of Glasgow 2014. Take a look at photos from the opening ceremony….
Continue Reading »

Slam! The Tour  poster Horizdesi

Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone gear up for Bollywood extravaganzas in Vancouver, Toronto and the U.S.

IANS New Delhi – Superstar Shah Rukh Khan is ready to shake a leg with his fans in the US after a gap of 10…
Continue Reading »

Actress Alia Bhatt attends the Highway premiere during 64th Berlinale International Film Festival at Zoo Palast on February 13, 2014 in Berlin, Germany.Clemens Bilan/Getty Images

Alia Bhatt feels she’s too young to team up with Bollywood’s Khans

IANS Mumbai – Bollywood’s reigning Khans are in their late 40s and 21-year-old Alia Bhatt feels she needs to look more matured to look convincing…
Continue Reading »