On the journey north, Lazy Jack and crew have passed plenty of boats, though few as big and fast-moving as the navy warships moving around near Magnetic Island.
The ships are off the Queensland coast as part of the Talisman Sabre military exercises. As the press release breathlessly announces, “This will be one of the largest gatherings of military ships to visit Brisbane for a single event in more than three decades, and will include vessels from the United States, New Zealand, Canada and Japan in addition to Royal Australian Navy ships.”
As we travel we’ve been following with interest reports coming from the south of Italy; where Carola Rackete, the German captain of a Sea-Watch ship carrying refugees shipwrecked off the Lybian coast, was first refused entry to dock her boat and then arrested once she did land. Released now from house arrest, she still faces a potential lengthy prison sentence and had her boat impounded.
It’s one of those curious ironies of our society that nations have endless budgets for boats designed to kill, with the people who operate them highly paid and respected. Boats that save lives though, like the Sea-Watch ship, are criminalised and stopped from landing.
It makes a mockery of all those politicians saying offshore detention centres are about “saving lives at sea”. John Howard was more honest in 2001 when he famously refused to let the SS Tampa and its shipwrecked asylum seekers land. “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances by which they arrive” he announced.
That still seems to be the policy. Peter Dutton has built his political career of relentless unsympathy for asylum seekers, but will step in to grant a visa to a French au pair as a favor for a mate. Or is open to personally meeting Chinese millionaires about their citizenship application if the price is right.
While the seas have always been open to anyone with a boat and the courage to take them on, official immigration channels are closed to anyone without money or political power. The crime of sea-faring asylum seekers, either in the Indian Ocean or the Mediterranean, is that they are the wrong kind of migrant from the wrong place wiith the wrong bank balance.
While naval boats practice war off the coast of Queensland, probably talking about their potential deployment to protect Western oil interests in the Strait of Hormuz; while Border Force boats patrol Australia’s northern borders searching for boats of asylum seekers to stop and turn back; boats like Sea-Watch and our own Sail 4 Justice flotilla represent a different way of viewing the seas.
We refuse to buy into arbitrary divisions that say some people (and some boats) are more deserving of our sympathy and support than others. Where there are distances that divide people; whether natural distances of the ocean or constructed distances of nationality and economic caste; we seek not to maintain those distances with gunships but to cross them with acts of solidarity.