26 August 2021: Tampa, 20 years on

Abbas Nazari fled Afghanistan with his family; they are Hazara, so they are the special target of the Taliban.  Nazari was just a child. The family boarded a boat, the Palapa, in Indonesia, but it began to fall apart.

Nazari notes that he, and other refugees on the Palapa, saw a plane overhead several times, and tried to attract its attention to get help. The plane was probably controlled by the Australian government, because Australia contacted the MV Tampa and asked it to watch for the Palapa.

The Tampa (a Norwegian container ship) was travelling from East to West across the top of Australia, so it was headed in a direction that would bring it close to the Palapa.

Nazari tells of the excitement of the Tampa’s approach, and the perilous climb up a rope ladder onto the deck of the Tampa.

The Tampa’s captain, Arne Rinaan, thought the Palapa might have held 80 people and was astonished when 438 people climbed up the rope ladder from the Palapa onto the deck of the Tampa.  He realised quickly that some of the asylum seekers needed urgent medical help.  Christmas Island was just 140 kilometers away so he eventually headed that way.  He was astonished when Australia, which had asked him to rescue the people on the Palapa, ordered him not to enter Australian territorial waters off Christmas Island.  He ignored that order, and the Tampa affair began.

Eventually, after the Federal Court of Australia had decided in favour of the asylum seekers (at 2.15 pm on 11 September 2001 – just hours before the terrorist attack on America) and the Federal Court appeal overruled the trial judgment (by 2 to 1), the Australian warship the Manoora took the asylum seekers to Nauru: Australia’s “Pacific Solution” had been cobbled together during the Tampa affair.

It happens that 26 August is also the date on which the Endeavour set sail from Plymouth in1768.  The Captain of the Endeavour was James Cook.  That voyage resulted in Britain discovering Australia.

Just 233 years later, on 26 August 2001, Australia lost its soul.

Abbas Nazari, who was rescued by Tampa, with his family, was taken to New Zealand.  He has recently published a book After The Tampa, which tells vividly of the journey which, as it happens, changed Australia as it changed the life of the Nazari family.