By DAN OAKES
Royal Australian Navy (RAN) personnel who have served on border protection operations have been exposed to significant trauma and are not being properly cared for, according to former and serving sailors and officers.
Men and women who served on Operation Resolute – the Navy’s contribution to Operation Sovereign Borders – have spoken publicly for the first time about what they have witnessed while boarding and intercepting asylum seeker vessels off Australia’s northern coast.
They also alleged decisions made in Canberra directly led to the deaths of asylum seekers.
All of the personnel the ABC spoke to served on Operation Resolute during the Rudd/Gillard Labor governments.
Sailors told to haul bodies onto boats
Troy Norris was recently discharged from the Navy suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He spent 13 years intercepting and boarding asylum seeker vessels, rising to the rank of chief bosun’s mate.
“There’d been times where we had to do body recoveries, which was quite difficult and traumatising,” Mr Norris said.
“It was extremely difficult, especially if the people had been in the water for quite a period of time … they become quite bloated and there’s only one way to pull them in and that’s to grab them and try and chuck them in the boat.
“Sometimes you’d go to pull these people in the boat and all you’d end up with is a handful of flesh. It’d just strip to the bone.”
Mr Norris was also shot in a training accident, suffered an electric shock on board a Navy ship, and was blown off an asylum seeker boat while attempting to destroy it.
All these things contributed to his debilitating PTSD, which he says was not treated seriously by his commanding officer.
“As he was reading the termination letter and I was having my anxiety attack and crying uncontrollably and whatever else, he didn’t even raise his eyes, didn’t take a breath, just continued reading,” Mr Norris said.
“[He] showed no compassion at all for my situation or the condition that I was in at the time. And that’s the kind a treatment I received. Getting rushed through because we were a liability.”