Sunday, 6 September 2015

M'sia resumes search and rescue for missing immigrants

Malaysian authorities have resumed their search and rescue operation for missing immigrants from the boat that capsized off the Sabak Bernam coast on Wednesday.

Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) Klang chief First Admiral Mohd Aliyas Hamdan said about 400 rescuers in nine boats and two aircraft set off from Hutan Melintang yesterday to continue searching for 24 more victims.

He said the officers were covering 1,000sq km search area but were facing strong winds and rough waves as the weather worsened.

“So far, it is not something we can’t handle. We’ll continue the search until we are positive that all the victims have been recovered,” Adm Mohd Aliyas said at the MMEA’s base about 15 nautical miles from where the boat carrying about 70 Indonesians capsized.

Other agencies involved in the search are the Selangor Fire and Rescue Department, the police, Civil Defence Department and local fishermen.

So far, 40 have been pulled out of the water, including 24 of those who died.

The bodies were brought to the Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainon in Ipoh for post-mortem.

In Klang, the 19 survivors rescued earlier were issued with remand orders by the Kuala Selangor magistrate’s court. They were placed under police custody for 14 days, pending investigations.

Officers also rescued an Indonesian man who survived despite being out in open waters for over 28 hours. He was found floating in the sea on Friday afternoon.

The victims were said to have crammed on a small boat, which left Kuala Sungai Bernam for Tanjung Balai in Sumatra, Indonesia, in the early hours of Wednesday.

It is believed the victims were heading home for the Hari Raya Haji celebrations.

In June last year, a wooden boat with 97 passengers capsized about two nautical miles off Sungai Air Hitam in Banting.

Fourteen of them drowned, including 12 women and a five-year-old girl while 61 were rescued.

Sunday 06 September 2015

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South Korean fishing boat capsizes; at least 10 dead

At least 10 people died and about eight were missing after a South Korean fishing boat capsized, a coast guard official and media reports said on Sunday.

The boat was found capsized earlier this morning, after it lost radio contact late on Saturday, a coast guard official in the southern island of Jeju said by telephone.

The bodies of 10 people were recovered in the waters near the island of Chuja, which lies between the mainland south coast and Jeju, the official said.

Three people were pulled from the water and airlifted to hospitals, the coast guard official said, adding they were expected to survive.

"There were six people without life jackets including the captain hanging onto the capsized boat," one of the survivors said in an interview with Yonhap. "One by one, those who lost strength slipped away."

Another survivor was quoted as saying that around five others failed to escape the boat when it turned over. However, the coast guard official said no one was found trapped in the boat during their search for more survivors.

Around 21 people are expected to have been on the boat, a spokesman from the Korea Coast Guard said during a briefing.

Most of those on board were on a fishing expedition to Chuja, a popular fishing area, a second coast guard official said. Some of them were from an online fishing club based in Busan.

President Park Geun-hye has called on the rescue and recovery services to do their utmost in the search for the missing, her office said in a statement.

In April 2014, a passenger ferry, Sewol, sank off the southwest coast killing about 300 people, most of them children on a school outing, triggering a national outrage over what was seen as an ineffective rescue operation.

Sunday 06 September 2015

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Authorities struggle to identify dead in migrant tragedies

Adal Neguse, an Eritrean immigrant whose brother drowned in a smuggler's boat while trying to reach Italy in 2013, knows all too well what might be in store for the relatives of those dying now in similar accidents in the Mediterranean.

The emotional pain of looking at photos of badly disfigured corpses.

Red tape and wasted time with bureaucrats who "just talk and talk" but don't keep their promises.

As record numbers of desperate people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia flood into Europe, hundreds are also dying in risky journeys arranged by unscrupulous smugglers, and authorities are struggling to identify those victims.

When the body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach along with those of his mother and brother, he came to represent others who also have perished trying to seek a better life. But unlike the young Syrian refugee, many of them remain anonymous and unclaimed.

As of Sept. 1, at least 364,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe this year. More than 2,800 have died, or are lost and presumed dead, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Only about a third of the bodies recovered are ever identified, said Frank Laczko, head of the IOM's Global Migration Data Analysis Center in Berlin.

"If each person has 10 relatives, that's close to 30,000 people who are affected," Laczko said. Besides the emotional pain, survivors must cope with legal issues such as property ownership to the right to remarry.

When Austrian authorities opened a truck apparently abandoned by smugglers on a highway near Vienna on Aug. 27, they discovered 71 badly decomposed bodies of men, women and children, and officials said some may never be identified. Another tragedy that same day left Libyan authorities with the task of identifying scores of bodies from two boats that sank off the coast.

In a commercial disaster like a plane crash, authorities have passenger manifests, electronic tickets, credit card records and data from travel agencies to work with. But human traffickers understandably usually keep no records when they arrange passage to Europe for those paying cash, so there are no emergency contacts and no way to contact relatives. And many refugees carry no ID.

Laczko said his agency wants a Europe-wide database for families to provide information about missing relatives and for authorities to distribute details about bodies they have found. He also wants far more attention paid to mining data from cellphones found on victims.

In the case of the truck ditched in Austria, experts are studying documents found with the dead but also have taken their fingerprints, DNA samples and dental information, in addition to data from 10 cellphones, police spokesman Helmut Marban said.

A hotline with Arabic, English and German speakers received more than 100 calls in its first two days. The victims included Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees, police said Friday, but no identities have been established. Marban would not disclose if any relatives have been located, citing an ongoing criminal investigation.

Some 2,576 people, mostly Eritreans and other sub-Saharan Africans, have died or are missing this year in the longer and more hazardous sea route from Libya to Europe, and most of the estimated 600 bodies recovered have ended up in Libya or Italy, according to the IOM. At the same time, about 116,649 have arrived safely in Italy.

Greece has logged 245,274 arrivals via the shorter route from Turkey, with 102 people dead or missing. Sixty of those bodies were recovered and most of them were brought to Greece, while some were sent to Turkey, the IOM said.

When the bodies end up in Italy, its main forensics team, based in Sicily, gathers what information it can: fingerprints, a DNA sample, dental information and a list of tattoos and any other distinguishing marks.

Italy has plenty of experience, dealing with maritime disasters involving smugglers' boats for years. But two tragedies in 2013 off Lampedusa, a tiny island 70 miles (115 kilometers) closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, changed much about how the world views the waves of migrants.

On Oct. 3, 2013, a trawler sank near the island, and authorities recovered 368 bodies, mostly of Eritrean refugees. Eight days later, there was another shipwreck south of Lampedusa in which nearly 200 people are believed to have drowned.

Until recently, the bodies found were recorded in Italy's missing persons' register sparely: "African ethnicity," or even "shipwrecked." The minimal descriptions belied an official view of the futility of ever getting a positive identification.

"Before there was the view that we only needed to identify Italians. In reality, that's not the case," said Vittorio Piscitelli, who took over the government office for missing people in 2013.

The office recorded 1,300 missing people through June 30, 2014, most of them Italians and some dating back decades, but also including hundreds of migrants. From Oct. 18, 2013, through Aug. 26, 2015, Italy has received a total of 382 bodies, the Interior Ministry said.

Piscitelli and his team joined with other organizations to create a protocol for identifying the dead from the October 2013 tragedies. This year, they began reaching out to migrant and refugee communities in Europe to find relatives to help with the process. North America is next.

The physical descriptions in the Italian missing persons' ledger have grown more robust, and DNA samples were taken of all the October 2013 victims to help resolve more cold cases.

So far, the official protocol applies only to the October 2013 shipwrecks. DNA samples were not typically taken of migrant victims prior to those tragedies, and the identification process is otherwise handled by local police, meaning relatives must figure out which jurisdiction to contact. Piscitelli hopes to be able to expand it to apply to more recent wrecks.

Of the 368 bodies recovered from the Oct. 3, 2013, sinking and the 21 bodies in the second shipwreck, 195 were identified right away, Piscitelli said. Under the new protocols, nine more bodies have been identified, with tentative IDs on another 19.

One of the dead from Oct. 3 was the 26-year-old brother of Neguse, the Eritrean immigrant.

Neguse considers himself "the lucky one" to have his brother Abraham identified.

In an interview in a park near his Stockholm home, Neguse said the process took 18 agonizing months — from the moment smugglers in Libya confirmed his brother was aboard to the final DNA confirmation.

He went to Lampedusa immediately to seek information about his brother's fate, looking at hundreds of photos of the dead and eventually giving up under the emotional strain of seeing so many badly disfigured faces.

"I was there one week, and I couldn't find him. But I talked to his friend who was there. He told me ... he drowned. But I didn't get an official answer to my questions," Neguse said.

No one took a DNA sample from him on that visit. He finally gave one when he was there again for a memorial on the tragedy's anniversary. While there, he was told results would come in a month; the positive identification actually took six months.

"They promised a lot of things, but they don't keep their promises," he said.

Neguse said officials told him that Abraham is buried in Sicily in a grave that is marked with a number but not a name.

Piscitelli said identifying the remaining bodies from the October 2013 wrecks will require help from relatives, many of whom are out of reach inside oppressive nations or in conflict zones.

A group called the Oct. 3 Committee, meanwhile, works with the Eritrean diaspora in Europe, seeking both DNA samples and documents.

Gergishu Yohannes, an Eritrean living in Germany for 30 years, assists others who are struggling with the uncertainty of a vanished relative.

She is motivated by the loss of her brother, Abel, who disappeared in 2009 while on a small boat from Libya to Italy and has never been found.

The craft, carrying 85 people, ran out of fuel near Malta. Adrift and out of food and water, the passengers began dying one by one, and their bodies were thrown overboard. When Italians finally rescued three weeks after they had set off, only five remained alive, Yohannes said.

She helps others, she said, "so that they won't have a fate like me, waiting every day, and can identify their loved ones."

Until her brother's body is found, Yohannes said she cannot rest.

"One waits every day, and I'm still waiting today," she said. "I cannot give it up."

Sunday 06 September 2015

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