Ship's Captain Relieved Of Command Over Refugee Turnback Incursions Into Indonesian Waters

The Navy has disciplined the officers involved in breaches into Indonesian territorial waters as part of Operation Sovereign Borders. Photo: Scott Fisher/Getty

One of the commanding officers involved in repeated incursions into Indonesian territorial waters by Australian Navy vessels during Operation Sovereign Borders has been relieved of his post following an investigation into the breaches.

Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Ray Griggs said today that another officer will be administratively sanctioned and the remaining Commanding Officers will be formally or informally counselled.

The decision by Vice Admiral Griggs follows a review in February which revealed repeated incursions by Customs and Navy vessels as part of the federal Government’s plan to tow back asylum seeker boats to Indonesia.

“Royal Australian Navy and Australian Customs and Border Patrol vessels inadvertently entered Indonesian waters on a number of occasions [six occasions] between 1 December 2013 and 20 January 2014 in contravention of Australian government policy and operational instructions,” the report said.

Following submissions from commanding officers involved, the Chief of Navy accepted that none had deliberately contravened orders not to enter the 12 nautical miles zone of Indonesian territorial waters.

Vice Admiral Griggs concluded that while the breaches were inadvertent, there lapses in professional conduct.

“Each of the Commanding Officers conducted these activities with the best of intent; however, I expect nothing but the highest standards of those in command.

“These actions are not punitive in nature but are aimed solely at upholding the professional standards that the Royal Australian Navy is renowned for and that are necessary for it to undertake its mission,” Vice Admiral Griggs said.

The Navy said the Privacy Act limits the release of details into individual cases and no further information on the outcomes will be provided.

Meanwhile, The Guardian has revealed that the Customs vessel Ocean Protector, which was part of the operation, sailed up to 9km inside Indonesian waters, further than first believed.

Investigations into the professional conduct of other ADF and Customs and Border Protection members over the breaches are ongoing.

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