Saving lives at sea

Michael Burgess received an Australian Bravery Decoration for helping to save the lives of 42 asylum seekers off Christmas Island in 2010. Picture: Bruce Hunt www.communitypix.com.au d418198
Michael Burgess received an Australian Bravery Decoration for helping to save the lives of 42 asylum seekers off Christmas Island in 2010. Picture: Bruce Hunt www.communitypix.com.au d418198

The Australian Bravery Decoration recognise acts of bravery by members of the community and uniformed services.

Michael Burgess, a marine enforcement officer with the Customs and Border Protection Marine Unit, was on a border protection vessel when a boat carrying asylum seekers broke up on rocks in rough weather near the island early in the morning on December 15.

For about an hour, the boat washed back and forth onto rocks. Babies and children were among the 48 refugees who died as residents and marine enforcement officers tried to help.

Mr Burgess was one of 13 Customs and Border Protection officers on that day to receive a Bravery Commendation.

Mr Burgess said he has worked for the department for about seven years and loved his job at sea.

Speaking to the Reporter from off the WA coast by satellite phone, Mr Burgess said he and other staff worked in a very challenging, changing environment in rough seas to effect the rescue.

‘It was a highly distressing experience because we could see bodies floating in the water and you want to lift them on board but you have to pass them and try to save the ones who are still alive,’ he said.

Mr Burgess said he personally saved eight lives on that day.

‘Instincts play a large role as you try to get as many people out of the water as you can. Your training kicks in and we just had to circle the area and search for people among the debris,’ he said.

Mr Burgess will travel to Canberra to officially receive his honour from Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove.