By Julian Bajkowski
A sharp increase in government activity related to unauthorised boat arrivals near Christmas Island has prompted an urgent upgrade of fuel storage facilities for the far flung port so that planes that fly there won’t get stranded.
Tender documents released by the Commonwealth show authorities are shopping for an extra aviation fuel storage capacity 500 kilolitres as part of a wider fuel consolidation project.
While the island territory is just 380 km south of the Indonesian island of Java, services most services are provided from Perth which is 2,650 km away.
A big challenge in maintaining Christmas Island is that the outpost’s power and transport is critically dependent on liquid fuel which must be shipped in.
However the delivery window for fuel is limited because of the annual “Swell Season” between November and March where seas become so rough the often result in port closures.
The pressure to maintain an adequate supply of aviation fuel on Christmas Island is certain to have increased since the Gillard government opted to reactivate offshore processing of asylum seekers arriving by boat under the so called Pacific Solution Mk2.
Under the policy, asylum seekers are transported by charter flights from Christmas Island to detention centre islands including Nauru.
Over the last month the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has mounted a sustained publicity blitz highlighting the transfer of asylum seekers from Christmas Island, including the release of government commissioned videos as part of a campaign to dissuade new illegal arrivals from Indonesia.
On 21st June a boat believed to have been carrying more than 200 people capsized while en route from Java to Christmas Island resulting in an estimated 87 people drowning, of which 17 bodies have been recovered.
In December 2010 a boat codenamed SIEV-221 by authorities came to grief in heavy seas immediately off Christmas Island resulting in 48 people of an estimated 90 people on board being lost at sea.
On Tuesday DIAC said that it had flown another planeload of immigration detainees from Christmas Island to Nauru.
“The group of 38 Pakistani men departed Christmas Island at 8.15pm AEDST on Sunday on a charter aircraft, escorted by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), DIAC staff, interpreters and medical staff,” a statement from Immigration authorities said.
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