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2001: Rescue of 433 asylum seekers by MV Tampa

26 August All day

Today we remember the humanitarian action of Captain Arne Rinnan and the need to work towards more just and compassionate asylum policy in Australia.

In August 2001 a small Indonesian fishing boat carrying asylum seekers became stranded in international waters approximately 140 kilometres from Christmas Island. The 433 asylum seekers were rescued by the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa on 26 August.

When some of the asylum seekers, who were mainly Hazaras fleeing Afghanistan, threatened to commit suicide if returned to Indonesia, Captain Arne Rinnan set course for Christmas Island.

A stand off ensued with the Australian government refusing to allow the asylum seekers to be landed. Many of the asylum seekers were in poor health and over a period of 48 hours Captain Rinnan made many requests to the Australian government for assistance. Eventually he entered Australian waters, and was warned that he was in breach of the law. Special Air Service troops were dispatched to prevent the Tampa from coming any closer to Christmas Island.

As the National Museum of Australia notes “the ‘Tampa Crisis’ became the catalyst for Australia’s new ‘border protection’ policy. It also became a pivotal issue in the 2001 federal election campaign”.

You can read the response of the Australian Catholic Bishops at the time here.