Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Migrants rescued by Italy say up to 50 missing after boat sinks

Up to 50 migrants went missing after a large rubber dinghy sank in the Mediterranean Sea, Italian rescuers said on Wednesday, while more than 1,500 were picked up from other vessels in the past 24 hours.

The Mediterranean has become the world's most deadly border zone for migrants. More than 2,000 migrants and refugees have died so far this year in attempts to reach Europe by boat, compared with 3,279 deaths during the whole of last year, the International Organization for Migration said last week.

An Italian navy helicopter on Tuesday spotted a rubber boat that appeared to be deflating, the navy said, and dropped life rafts to the migrants on board. The boat then sank, it said.

The Italian naval ship Mimbelli rushed to the scene and pulled 52 migrants to safety. Survivors said there had been about 100 on board, leaving up to about 50 unaccounted for, a rescue operations source said.

A helicopter later airlifted to safety two migrants seen hanging onto a floating barrel near where the dinghy had sunk, the navy said. The survivors were being taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Overall on Tuesday, Italy's coastguard said it coordinated the rescue of more than 1,500 migrants -- many fleeing war zones and poverty in Africa and the Middle East -- from seven different vessels.

People-smugglers, mostly based in lawless Libya and charging thousands of dollars for passage, have sent more than 100,000 migrants by sea to Italy so far this year, according to an Interior Ministry tally. Italy took in 170,000 in 2014.

Around 200 migrants were presumed killed earlier this month off the coast of Libya when their boat capsized. More than 400 were rescued from that shipwreck.

Financially strapped Greece has also struggled to cope with a surge in migrants and refugees arriving on its Mediterranean shores.

Greek police used fire extinguishers and batons against migrants on the island of Kos on Tuesday after violence broke out in a sports stadium where hundreds of people, including young children, were waiting for immigration papers.

Wednesday 12 August 2015

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15 Years on, Kursk Submarine Tragedy

Fifteen years after one of the worst disasters in Russian naval history — the sinking of the Kursk submarine in the Barents Sea in which all 118 crew members died — the number of Russians who blame the authorities for not doing enough to rescue the sailors has dropped.

The tragedy occurred on Aug. 12, 2000, making it one of the first serious challenges faced by Russia's new president Vladimir Putin. While at the time and in the immediate aftermath, the president's actions were criticized, a poll published Monday by the independent pollster Levada Center showed that 40 percent of Russians thought the authorities did everything possible to save the crew — compared to 34 percent in 2010 and 23 percent in August 2000.

At the time, Russia's rejection of offers of help from other countries elicited outrage among some members of the public. Attitudes to that position also appear to have softened: If five years ago, only 21 percent of respondents considered it the right decision, this year, 28 percent of people agreed with it.

'It Sank'

In a fateful moment that would be remembered and criticized for years to come, Putin told CNN's Larry King: “It sank” — and appeared to smirk — when answering a question about what had happened to the submarine during an interview on the television channel a month after the tragedy.

This laconic answer and the president's demeanor were slammed as being cynical, indifferent and inappropriate for years to come, and further enraged those who already believed the government could have saved some of the sailors.

On Aug. 12, the Kursk, a nuclear submarine and one of the largest attack submarines ever built, was taking part in naval exercises in the Barents Sea. As the results of an official investigation later showed, one of the torpedoes the Kursk was carrying went off accidentally at around 11:28 a.m., followed by another explosion minutes later, after which the submarine sank.

Military officials only registered that an incident had taken place at 11:30 p.m., after failing to contact the crew numerous times.

The vessel was reportedly located at 4:30 a.m. the next day more than 100 meters below the surface. Attempts to rescue any possible survivors gripped the world's attention for more than a week, but were ultimately unsuccessful: By the time Norwegian rescuers managed to open the submarine's hatch on Aug. 21, everyone inside it was dead. Twenty-three sailors are now believed to have survived the initial blast for several hours before their oxygen ran out.

Blame Game

Putin's administration was criticized for a lot of things — for waiting too long to start the rescue operation, for refusing assistance from other countries, and for the apparent lack of concern shown by Putin himself: The president only terminated his vacation in Sochi five days after the tragedy struck.

“They should have raised the alarm immediately. In only doing so at 11:30 [p.m.], they were several hours late,” Boris Kuznetsov, a lawyer who represented 55 families of the deceased sailors, told the Voice of America radio station last year.

Kuznetsov, who is now in his 70s, moved to the U.S. in 2007, fearing arrest after having published a book called “It Sank” that decried the authorities' failure to save the survivors of the blasts.

The lawyer claimed that the explosion on the Kursk was recorded by a cruiser named the Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) that was nearby at the time. The cruiser's crew also heard and recorded what sounded like the submarine crew banging on its walls, which sailors do in extreme situations to attract attention, the lawyer said.

The banging, Kuznetsov told Voice of America, continued until Aug. 14, so the experts' conclusion that everyone had died from lack of oxygen eight hours after the tragedy, and that by the time the submarine was located there was no one to save, was deliberately falsified, because the authorities didn't want to admit they were helpless.

“The U.K. sent an airplane with rescue apparatus, but it was prohibited from entering Russian air space. The Norwegians offered help. Everything was rejected. The real reason was fear of showing total inability to rescue people during extreme situations,” Kuznetsov was cited by Voice of America as saying.

Unhappy Ending

In 2001, the hull of the submarine was raised from the bottom of the sea. A year later the official investigation concluded, naming the accidental torpedo detonation as the cause of the disaster.

That conclusion eliminated all the other versions — the submarine being attacked by foreign naval forces, a World War II-era underwater mine explosion, the submarine colliding with something in the sea — that had been circulating in the media for two years.

Not everyone accepted the results of the investigation. Some insisted that the Kursk had been attacked by a U.S. submarine and Putin had deliberately concealed it in order to avoid an international conflict.

Nevertheless, the case was closed and declared classified.

The bodies of 115 sailors were recovered and identified, several military officials were fired and all the crew members were posthumously awarded Orders of Courage. Their families received a total of up to 23 million rubles (about $700,000 at the time) in compensation from the authorities, the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper reported in 2003.

Wednesday 12 August 2015

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SOS Malta launches urban canine search and rescue unit

SOS Malta today launched its first urban canine search and rescue unit to help it in its humanitarian missions.

The unit is made up of nine dogs, four of which have concluded their training, and nine handlers.

All dogs will be fully trained by January 2016. Training cost €17,000 per dog.

The dogs were trained in Malta and abroad by volunteer John Gera, a former civil protection officer, who offered his services for free.

The team will be used in the eventuality of a disaster in Malta and will also accompany SOS Malta on its missions overseas.

The unit was launched following a €10,000 donation by a Norwegian woman.

Wednesday 12 August 2015

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Japan Airlines jumbo crash remembered 30 years later

Hundreds of people attended ceremonies Wednesday marking the 30th anniversary of a Japan Airlines jumbo jet crash that killed 520 people on board, the deadliest single-aircraft disaster in history.

The doomed Boeing 747 had begun the hour-long flight from Japan's capital to Osaka when it crashed into a mountain about 120 kilometres (75 miles) northwest of Tokyo on August 12, 1985.

In all, 509 passengers, including a dozen infants, and 15 crew were killed in the accident. Just four passengers survived.

Bereaved relatives of victims make an annual pilgrimage to Osutaka Ridge, along with JAL president Yoshiharu Ueki who will walk the trail to a memorial service near the crash site.

Ahead of Wednesday's events, Ueki told local media that "we would like to learn a lesson from this accident without forgetting the memory" of the lives lost.

Television footage showed some victims' relatives starting their climb up the steep mountain trail before dawn.

Some blew soap bubbles to pay tribute the children who died in the accident, their names included on a stone memorial listing the victims.

"When I come here I feel like I can see her directly -- it's like she's in front of me," an 81-year-old man who lost his daughter told local media.

"Thirty years is a long time, but honestly I feel as if it happened yesterday, and the memories were stirred again this particular year."

Japan Airlines Flight 123 took off from Tokyo's Haneda airport at 6:12 pm local time and quickly ran into trouble with a loud noise heard about 10 minutes into the trip.

The crew quickly declared an emergency and fought to regain power over the aircraft which had become "uncontrollable". It crashed into the mountain at 6:56 pm local time, about 45 minutes into the flight.

It was later determined that the bulkhead burst, rupturing hydraulic systems and leaving the plane uncontrollable.

A government-appointed investigation panel blamed the accident on improper repairs on the rear bulkhead seven years earlier.

In 1988, local police served papers on 20 people from JAL, the transport ministry and Boeing on suspicion of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

But prosecutors decided not to indict anyone.

"It can never be forgotten," Satoshi Iizuka, a former police officer who identified bodies at the site three decades ago, told broadcaster TV Asahi as he choked back tears.

"Today, people tend to prioritise speed over safety."

This year's anniversary comes several days after the hunt for more wreckage from missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 resumed on France's Reunion island in the Indian Ocean after being suspended last week.

A wing part was found on the island in late July and confirmed by the Malaysian prime minister to be part of the Boeing 777 that disappeared on March 8, 2014 with 239 people onboard.

Wednesday^12 August 2015

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