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This composition includes strange chords that reflect the asylum-seekers’ sense of being stranded on the water, of being nowhere. It is a cry for help.
– Slava Grigoryan

MV Tampa lifebuoy

Harmonically this work is unsteady, reflecting the horrific events experienced by refugees aboard the MV Tampa.

The piece not only engages with the specific story of those aboard the ship but also explores this defining moment in Australian history that signalled a shift to offshore processing in Australia.


A lifebuoy from the MV 'Tampa' and how it inspired the Grigoryan Brothers composition. Courtesy ABC Classic
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Presenters: Slava and Leonard Grigoryan with Alice Keath


This lifebuoy was part of the safety equipment used on the MV Tampa, a container ship owned and operated by the Norwegian shipping company Wallenius Wilhelmsen.

In August 2001 the ship’s crew rescued hundreds of asylum-seekers, mainly Hazaras from Afghanistan, from a stranded Indonesian fishing boat in international waters off Christmas Island and attempted to bring them to Australia.

The asylum-seekers became stranded on the Tampa when it was refused entry into Australian Territorial Waters. Many were in poor health, so the ship’s captain decided to enter Australian waters after making repeated requests for assistance. The government responded by dispatching 45 SAS troops to board the ship and prevent it from sailing any closer to Christmas Island.

The ‘Tampa Crisis’ became a pivotal issue in the 2001 federal election campaign. As a result the Commonwealth Government enacted the ‘Pacific Strategy’ as a series of bills intended to strengthen border control and national security.

Lifebuoy from the MV Tampa up close 03:04

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In our collection

Lifebuoy from MV TampaThis lifebuoy was used on the Norwegian merchant vessel, MV Tampa which responded to an emergency call and rescued 438 asylum seekers at sea on 26 August 2001. The asylum seekers were trying to reach Australia in a 20 metre wooden fishing boat when it began to sink about 140 kilometres north of Christmas Island. The rescue was p...
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