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Aboriginal Land Council Claims Ownership Over Stranded Yacht

A shipwrecked yacht on a remote Australian island has become the centre of a dispute between the vessel’s owner and the local Aboriginal Land Council, which claimed the yacht belongs to them.

The 40-foot “Huntress” suffered a mishap during its Sydney to Hobart race on Dec. 28, 2022, when it hit an unidentified object which sheared off part of its rudder.

The skipper and seven crew members were rescued, while the vessel was later washed up on Christmas Beach on Cape Barren Island off the northeast coast of Tasmania.

It was salvaged by an insurance company overnight on Jan. 8 before being towed back to mainland Tasmania the following day.

But the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania has claimed the shipwrecked vessel was the property of Aboriginal people and demanded either ownership over the yacht or a third of its value.

Michael Mansell, the council’s chairman who’s also an Indigenous activist, argued the salvage operation should not have been done because it drifted to the shores of Aboriginal land.

“Physically, the boat may have been taken from our land, but our rights didn’t go with the boat,” he told AAP.

“It may well be that the salvage guys, the owner and the insurance people were not aware of the Aboriginal right to ownership of any vessel that gets washed up on the shore.”

Mansell also told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he was referring to an old Aboriginal sea law practice that originated since the European settlement in the 1820s.

“Many boats have fallen under this law. The white man’s salvage laws do not apply because this is sovereign Aboriginal territory and our laws override those of the white men,” he said.

Under the common law of salvage in Australia, an individual who risks himself voluntarily to successfully help recover another person’s ship or cargo in danger at sea is entitled to be rewarded by the owner of the property saved.

However, the law of salvage doesn’t state that the salvor to provide salvage is entitled to the ownership of the property.

The insurance company which carried out the salvage operation, Total Dive Solutions, said the salvage was successful, and the local Indigenous community was consulted.

“Total Dive Solutions recognises this could not have been possible without the support and assistance of the local Indigenous community,” the company said in a statement.

‘Dystopian Legal World’

The legal dispute comes as the centre-left federal Labor government is pushing for the Indigenous Voice to parliament, which would lead to the establishment of a body made up of Indigenous people to consult all levels of government about policies that impact the Aboriginal community.

A referendum on the Voice is due to be held in the second half of 2023.

Queensland Senator Gerard Rennick warned that the dispute over the “Huntress” yacht offers a “glimpse into the dystopian legal world following a successful referendum on the Voice.”

“Property rights will be turned upside down,” he said.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton raised concerns about the lack of details of the Voice in an open letter on Jan. 8.

“By starving the Australian people of the basic detail of the Voice, the prime minister is really setting the Voice up for a fail and setting back reconciliation, and that’s something that he has to answer to the Australian public on,” he said.

“It’s obvious that the prime minister has made a political decision based on the advice of his strategists not to provide the detail to the Australian public.”

“By doing that, I really think he’s treating people like mugs.

“People won’t lightly change the constitution—even if they believe in the cause—unless there’s a compelling argument to do so.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese replied to Dutton in a Twitter post, saying, “people are over cheap culture war stunts.”

Nina Nguyen

Nina Nguyen is a reporter based in Sydney. She covers Australian news with a focus on social, cultural, and identity issues. She is fluent in Vietnamese. Contact her at nina.nguyen@epochtimes.com.au.

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