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Human Rights Award presented to Captain Arne Rinnan and crew of MV TAMPA from the people of Australia

Date: 2002
Overall: 200 × 150 × 20 mm, 424 g
Image: 152 × 105 mm
Medium: Plastic, timber
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Wilh. Wilhelmsen ASA
Object Name: Award
Object No: 00054783

User Terms

    This Human Rights Award was presented to Captain Arne Rinnan and the crew of MV TAMPA by an Australian government representative on 9 May 2002. It recognises the work of the captain and crew of MV TAMPA in rescuing 433 asylum seekers from their stricken fishing boat, KM PALAPA 1, in the Indian Ocean on 26 August 2001. Although TAMPA was not licensed to carry more than 50 people, Captain Rinnan changed course to assist the asylum seekers.
    SignificanceThis award relates to a dramatic and controversial episode in MV TAMPA's working life, representing the tension between international obligations for safety of life at sea (SOLAS) and Australia’s domestic policy on refugees and asylum seekers. The TAMPA affair of August 2001 drew extensive media coverage in Australia and overseas. Images of asylum seekers huddled among stacked containers on deck dominated newspaper front pages, while headlines relayed the ‘storming’ and ‘seizure’ of TAMPA and the ensuing ‘refugee showdown’. The incident inflamed political and public debate about refugees, asylum seekers and border protection at the turn of the 21st century. The question of how to deal with asylum seekers arriving on unauthorised voyages remains one of the most polarising issues in contemporary Australia.
    HistoryOn 26 August 2001 the crew of the Norwegian cargo ship MV TAMPA rescued 433 asylum seekers from their stricken fishing boat, KM PALAPA 1, in the Indian Ocean. Although TAMPA was not licensed to carry more than 50 people its captain, Arne Rinnan, changed course to help the asylum seekers, who were mainly from Afghanistan, which was then under Taliban rule.

    Under pressure from some of the desperate asylum seekers Captain Rinnan headed for the offshore Australian territory of Christmas Island, but was denied permission to enter Australian waters. When the health of some passengers deteriorated Captain Rinnan sent a Mayday signal and sailed toward Christmas Island. TAMPA was boarded by Australian special forces who ordered the ship to turn around.

    Following an intense political standoff the asylum seekers were transferred to HMAS MANOORA. Most were taken to the Pacific island of Nauru as part of Australia’s ‘Pacific Solution’ (2001–08). This aimed to prevent refugees from reaching Australian territory, where they could legally claim asylum, to detain and process them offshore in cooperating foreign countries. A small number of asylum seekers from TAMPA were eventually granted refugee status and resettled in Australia.

    In 2002 Captain Rinnan and TAMPA's crew and owner received the Nansen Refugee Award from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The award honoured their commitment to the principle of rescue at sea, despite the risk of long delays and large financial losses for the ship's operator Wallenius Wilhelmsen.

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