Australia Slams "Shameful" Lawsuit by Asylum Seekers' Families

Australian authorities assist asylum seekers who survived their vessel capsizing off Christmas Island, 09 June 2013. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has deemed legal action against the government for not preventing a different asylum-seeker boat from being wrecked in 2010 as "shameful". EPA/JON FAULKNER

SYDNEY (DPA) — Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison Tuesday condemned legal action against the government for not preventing an asylum-seeker boat from being wrecked three and a half years ago.

Fifty Iranian and Iraqi asylum seekers died when their boat was driven by heavy seas against rocks at Christmas Island on 15 December 2010.

Australian navy and rescue teams saved 39 people, but lawyer George Newhouse argued the government should have spotted the boat earlier and prevented the tragedy.

Morrison described the legal action, launched on Monday on behalf of eight families, as "shameful and offensive."

Speaking to reporters in Canberra, Morrison said it was like suing firemen who save someone from a burning house or police who risk their lives to rescue a hostage.

Newhouse told broadcaster ABC that the government should have had a better rescue system at Christmas Island.

A coroner inquiry in 2012 blamed people smugglers for putting people at risk in the boat, but criticized the government for a lack of rescue vessels on the island.