Tampa still making waves 

One Man's Web > Politics and Ethics > Australia and the refugees
Posted June 1 2003

From the Norwegian site Aftenposten
Awaiting permission for this page to become permanent

This article is reproduced in full. It shows Australia in a less than pleasant light.

The retired captain of the Norwegian liner ship Tampa remains a hero for the hundreds of refugees he rescued from a sinking ship nearly two years ago. He recently met two who now live in Norway, while Norway itself is pushing for tougher laws to ensure shipwrecked refugees' safety.

Noor Ali Akbari and Ali Jan Mohsini were among the 430 refugees taken aboard the Norwegian ship Tampa in August 2001. Now they live in Heggedal, west of Oslo.

Norwegian officials will ask the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to force coastal nations to take in refugees plucked out of the sea by merchant vessels.

The proposal comes in the wake of the celebrated Tampa incident, in which the crew of the vessel run by Oslo-based Wilh Wilhelmsen rescued more than 400 refugees from their sinking boat, only to be refused permission to set them on land in an Australian territory.

Australian authorities, led by Prime Minister John Howard, refused to let the Tampa enter port at Christmas Island. He didn't want Australia to assume responsibility for the refugees. They ultimately were taken to the island nation of Nauru, where they were detained until the UN could place them in host countries.

The incident set off a storm of international criticism and discussion, and now shipping nation Norway wants the rules clarified. While vessels are obligated to rescue those issuing distress calls, Norway thinks nearby nations also must be obligated to offer safe harbor.

The proposal, however, is meeting opposition. Neither Australia nor the US, for example, are willing to accept responsibility for the so-called "boat people" and are fighting Norway's proposal to the IMO before it's been formally presented.

The now-retired captain of the Tampa, Arne Rinnan, meanwhile, says he had a memorable reunion with two of the refugees he rescued.

Noor Ali Akbari and Ali Jan Mohsini, who fled Afghanistan in the rickety craft that later sank in the Indian Ocean, have since been resettled in Norway. They immediately wanted to meet Rinnan when they arrived in Oslo three weeks ago.

A local immigration worker managed to arrange the meeting, which Rinnan called "a fine experience." The two refugees presented him with cards, small gifts and other greetings from fellow refugees still interned on Nauru.

Rinnan said he hopes Norway's proposal to the IMO will go through, but he noted the strong opposition to refugees in Australia. "And I don't think Norway has much to brag about either," he said."

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