Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Mediterranean Graveyard, The nameless dead of Malta

They're stacked in silver tubes. One on top of another. They are sealed in black plastic bags with marker-scribbled signs hung at their feet: Unknown Number 7, Unknown Number 10. Here, we can count 24 nameless corpses, all unknown and unidentified.

"They are all adult males, except one teenager," says Dr. David Grima.

They were on deck and died at sea, in the open wind, unlike those who were trapped below deck. We don't know their names, but in reality we know them very well. We have already seen them, followed them, listened to them, admired them for a strength that we don't have.

And we know how this would-be passage to Europe ends, here on the continent's extreme southern stretch, at the Mater Dei hospital's morgue on the island nation of Malta. Authorities now say as many as 800 people were killed in the sinking of the boat over the weekend, the worst maritime disaster in Europe since World War II.

Mater Dei (Mother of God) is the main hospital on the island, a modern building tucked among a tangle of streets. The mortuary's refrigerator has capacity for 65 bodies at any one time. Today a retiree suffered a fatal heart attack and three chronically ill patients from a ward died, joining the 23 men and teenagers who were fished out of the Mediterranean Sea.

"Sub-Saharan," says Dr. Grima. "Eritreans and Somalis, probably." The doctor, who wears an ID card around his neck and a blue shirt, is head of the morgue. He is the guardian of the dead who have no names.

"Today we took their DNA and in two days we will perform autopsies," he says. "Over the weekend we will give them an inter-religious burial, like we did last time."

Though the world is now finally paying attention, everything seen here has already happened before. The 24 bodies will go to the Addolorata cemetery where they will be interred next to the 21 who died in the Oct. 11 2013 sinking, and an Eritrean who tried to escape from Malta's reception center on a small boat, but returned lifeless because of the strong currents.

"There is a specific part of the cemetery reserved for migrants," says Grima. That is where they bury these victims without names, and without religion to avoid mistakes.

The day after the wreck in 2013, we came to this hospital for the first time and the atmosphere was very different — in addition to the dead, there were survivors. Everyone was grabbing arms, pleading to make a phone call. They were shouting the names of their relatives in the hopes that answers would come. "Where is my mother?" "My son, my son … please tell me that he was brought to Lampedusa."

Where is Europe?

There was a Syrian boy who was frothing with rage, standing at the door, wearing a baseball cap turned backwards. His name was Molhake Al Roasrn and he made his sea journey from the Libyan port city of Zuwarah. "The Libyans began firing, wounding three people. Because of the panic, everyone came above deck and the ship overturned …"

Perhaps he lost some relatives in the wreck but that was not the reason for his anger. "This is not Europe," he kept repeating. "Yes, yes, you're in Europe now," we tried to console him. "It's not true. I wanted to go to Italy, then to Sweden. That is Europe."

A European Union nation, Malta is a quiet island with a mild climate. There are retired Italians who read newspapers in the sun, groups of English tourists, colonial-style hotels and school classes on field trips. For the immigrants who arrive here, it's a curse. "I didn't undertake that journey to end up here," said Molhake.

Yesterday morning at 9 a.m., the Italian Coast Guard's Gregoretti ship docked at Valletta's port, not far from one particularly large and luxurious yacht with a helicopter on board. Sitting on the main deck of the Italian military ship were survivors, wearing colorful jackets and lucky tracksuits. They watched the corpses being brought ashore, one by one, towards a black van with a cross on its side. "After the initial euphoria at being saved, the ship fell silent," said Captain Gianluigi Bove. "It was when they realized we would be carrying the dead too."

Everybody knows the end of this story too well: the perpetual condemnation to oblivion, an eternal distance from loved ones, the desire not be recognized anymore. In the face of the sheer scale of the latest tragedy, Mater Dei hospital chief Ivan Falzon posted a message on Facebook. "No one even knows who died. Nobody will bring flowers. So let us, as their friends and relatives would. We can try to at least make their deaths gentle."

This is why people are coming to the front of the morgue. People like Gloria Bugeja, who works with stray dogs. "It hurts to think that nobody is mourning these people," she says. "What do their parents know?" She lays a camellia beside the wreath that the Minister for Justice placed down. By 6 p.m. on Monday, eighteen bouquets of flowers had been placed, and at least one note: "For the unidentified dead in Mater Dei, hoping for an eternal paradise. Rest in peace."

Wednesday 22 April 2015

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Death toll rises to 19 in N China mine flooding

Nineteen people were confirmed dead as of 10 a.m. Wednesday at a flooded coal mine in the northern province of Shanxi, according to the nation's work safety regulator.

Rescuers have retrieved 19 bodies and are racing against time to rescue the remaining 2 miners trapped underground.

A total of 247 people were working in Jiangjiawan mine in Datong city when the accident occurred at around 6:50 p.m. on Sunday. Two hundred and twenty-three miners made it out safely, while 24 were trapped.

As of Tuesday afternoon, about 6,100 cubic meters of water had been pumped out from the shaft.

The coal mine, owned by Datong Coal Mine Group, has an annual production capacity of 900,000 tonnes.

The group has ordered all its small mines, many of which were previously privately owned, to suspend production for safety checks.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

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Sudan gold mine collapse leaves six people dead, dozens missing

A gold-mine collapse in Sudan’s western region of Darfur killed six people and may have left more than 30 others trapped underground, a community leader said.

The disaster occurred last week at the informal mine in al-Sireaf, in North Darfur’s Jebel Amer region, and rescue efforts have been made, according to Ibrahim Abdullah, head of the state’s Shura Council of Arab tribes. Afia Darfur, an online radio station covering the region, cited eyewitness Mahmoud Hemdan as saying eight bodies have been recovered.

“No one knows the real number of miners that remain under the wreckage, but they are probably more than 30,” Abdullah said by phone from North Darfur’s state capital, El Fasher, about 175 kilometers (110 miles) east of the mine.

Sudan is boosting gold production to offset the loss of three-quarters of its oil output when South Sudan seceded in July 2011. The North African nation produced a record 73.3 metric tons of the metal last year, at least 85 percent of which was extracted by informal, or artisanal, miners, according to the Mining Ministry.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

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South Korea sets plan to raise 'corroded' Sewol ferry year after disaster, nine still missing

South Korea said on Wednesday it will raise the Sewol ferry that sank a year ago, killing more than 300 people, most of them children, yielding to pressure from mourning families who have called for a deeper investigation into the disaster.

The Sewol, which was structurally unsound, overloaded and travelling too fast on a turn, capsized and sank during a routine voyage and lies 44 metres (144 feet) deep off the southwestern island of Jindo.

Of those killed, 250 were teenagers on a school trip, many of whom obeyed crew instructions to remain in their cabins even as crew members were seen on TV escaping the sinking vessel.

A government committee concluded that it would be possible to raise the 6,800-tonne vessel at a cost of 150 billion won (93 million pounds), the government said in a statement.

The work, which the government hopes can begin in September, could take up to 18 months and the cost could rise beyond 200 billion won depending on weather conditions and technical difficulties, it said.

"The primary risk is that the Sewol is a vessel built more than 20 years ago so there is corrosion in its body," Park In-yong, the retired navy admiral who heads the newly formed Ministry for Public Safety and Security, told a briefing.

"And it is lying on its left, so as we try to raise it without righting it, there may be structural weakening."

Raising the Sewol has been a central demand of victims' families, some of whom say the government let them down by failing to announce a salvage plan by the first anniversary of the disaster on April 16. Nine of the victims' bodies remain missing.

Relatives of the victims said the salvage plan was too late in coming.

"The government's announcement to salvage the ferry in September is really very preposterous," Lee Nam-seok, father of one of those killed, said.

The decision comes as President Park Geun-hye is under renewed political pressure, with her prime minister offering his resignation this week after a businessman and former lawmaker who committed suicide accused him of accepting illegal funds.

On Saturday, thousands of people including family members held a rally in central Seoul to protest what they said was government incompetence and foot dragging over raising the ship and allowing an independent probe into the disaster.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

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