We Stopped the Boats Didn’t We?

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copyright Des Pensable 2016

This story is fiction set in Australia a decade from now.

I was sitting in my apartment in Perth reading a newspaper article, that was discussing the Australia’s Conservative government’s claims that their latest policy to minimize illegal immigrants to Australia had worked. Global Warming was well advanced and we were seeing 1.8C and had no hope of staying below 2C.

All the tropical countries including our neighbours to our north were suffering food and water shortages and Climate Change had displaced over 100 million people around the world. Australia took almost none of them.

The new government had decided to grant food aid to Indonesia and other countries on the strict condition that they stopped any desperate Climate Refugees from leaving their shores seeking haven in Australia as we were already said to be overcrowded. They had recently reintroduced a white Australia policy.

A few pages later I noticed a small column stating that a Broome fisherman had seen an explosion on the horizon whilst fishing in a boat several km off shore and fearing some ship was in trouble, headed towards the location of the explosion only to be stopped by Australian Border Patrol officers on a US naval patrol boat. They had declared the area an operational ‘NO GO’ zone.

The fisherman returned to his port to be met by another two Border Patrol officers advising him to keep quiet about what he had seen or his fishing licence would be revoked. He ignored their warning and told the local police and a reporter on the local newspaper.

The reporter had asked the authorities why Australian Border Patrol officers were aboard a US vessel patrolling Australian waters and whether there had been an explosion or ship in distress. They claimed that there were no reports of any maritime incident and No US vessel with Border Patrol people aboard.

They stated that one of the fisherman’s friends had tipped them off that he had been drunk whilst fishing alone and risked an accident. They had cautioned him to stay sober and work safely.

I was curious and suspicious that there was more to this incident than reported. After tidying up my affairs at home a few days later I flew up to Broome asked around and eventually met the fisherman who didn’t wish to talk as his fishing permit had been revoked for three months.

After a couple of beers I managed to talk him into taking me for a paid tour up the coast as he was still licenced to take out tourists for a run. He was sensitive about my camera and mobile phone stating that he didn’t want anything recorded. So they were stashed in a sealed metal can while we motored out to sea.

I discretely told him that I was interested in the Government’s statement that they had stopped the boats coming using their Food for Suppression campaign as it was called in the media.  He didn’t say much as we motored out to sea about 10km. Then he pointed out to sea.

“I was about here when I saw the explosion. It was right on the horizon in that direction possibly 15 km away. I headed towards it and was stopped about half way there.”

As luck would have it, there was another explosion on the horizon. I had seen these before it was a missile. The faint vapour trail was still visible.

“It was just like that one.” he said. “Do you believe me now! “ he shouted as we headed off towards the area.

“Do you mind if I take a picture”. I asked. He agreed and retrieved my mobile phone took several pictures of the smoke and mailed it off to several friends with and explanation about my location, why I was there and what I had seen.

We made it there just as the US naval patrol boat arrived. There were people and bodies floating in the water wearing life jackets. We were ordered to stop and two Australian uniformed Border Patrol officers came aboard. They wanted to see any cameras and mobile phones and confiscated them, then ordered us back to port.

I asked what we had done wrong and why they were ordering us around but got no answer. We were met on the dock by another four officers and taken to the local police station where we were arrested for fishing without a licence and resisting arrest. We were not allowed to speak to anyone, handcuffed and hooded, then flown by private plane somewhere.

I was placed in a small cement cell not high enough for me to stand and several hours later the interrogations started by Border patrol men and plain clothes men with US accents. I asked what I was charged with but received no answer.

I was questioned over and over again for 48 hours straight. What was I doing there with the fisherman? What had I seen? I started by telling them I was just a tourist but eventually admitted that I wanted to verify the fisherman’s story in the newspaper out of curiosity.

What I didn’t tell them was that before I visited the fisherman I had visited an ex-serviceman who had flown armed drones in the Middle East. He had told me that the Border Patrol had hired some from the US Navy and were using them to spot refugee ships.

The next thing that he said confirmed my worst suspicions. A drone pilot and good friend of his had told him that he was offered a contract to stop the refugee boats using drones armed with missiles. He had refused but said others were not so fussy.

I wrote a story about this before I went to visit the fisherman and sent it to several sources within Australia and overseas to be opened if I disappeared for more than a week.

On my second week of captivity the story was out in the social media. Australia was using armed drones to stop refugee ships landing in Australia. Indonesia leaked that several ships had eluded them and they had wondered why they never heard from them again.  A whistle blower confirmed the story and the US Navy refused to confirm or deny they were involved.

The Australian Civil Rights Commissioner demanded to know what had happened to me. After questions were asked in parliament it was revealed that I was charged with espionage, stealing National secrets and endangering Australia’s reputation. I was nominally in gaol for a minimum of 15 years without trial as seeing what you are not supposed to see was a National Security issue.

Eventually after a year of fighting in and out of parliament I was released on the condition that I said nothing to the media. I was not allowed to tell what I had seen. I was told that the fisherman had been released months ago and had drowned in a fishing accident. I resolved not to go fishing in the near future.

The most ironic part of the whole experience was just before I was released one of the senior Border Control officers said. “We stopped the boats didn’t we? You’ve gone and fucked our best policy yet.  Now we’ll have to use our submarines and they’re a bloody lot more expensive to run.

I wished the Australian public had had the courage to get rid of the psychopaths in the government a decade ago but perhaps their inaction, their fear and willful blindness told another more sinister story.

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For more stories checkout the www.despensable.com.au website.

Read the real story about the Australia’s Refugee shame in 2016 below

The worst I’ve seen – trauma expert lifts lid on ‘atrocity’ of Australia’s detention regime

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Des Pensable

Des is a native of Sydney where he currently lives with his partner Joanne. He has a PhD in neuroscience and worked as a biomedical scientist where he published widely in several areas of science. Since retiring, he’s been a keen writer of poetry, stories and philosophy which appear on his web, blog site and on line literary publications. He is also a performance poet that appears regularly in venues around Sydney.

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