Monday, 2 November 2015

Dozens missing as ferry sinks on Chindwin River

At least four people have died and as many as 80 more are missing after a boat sank on the Chindwin River in Mandalay Region’s Kalaywa township yesterday.

Rescuers said they were able to save about 30 passengers, but witnesses claimed that around 100 people were on board the vessel at the time of the accident.

The boat, called the Ya Zar Tun, sank around 5:30am, according to the township head, who was alerted to the incident an hour later. The official said everyone was still in the river by the time authorities arrived to begin the rescue operation.

The bodies of four people were recovered soon after, while the boat captain, as well as his wife and one-year-old son, were among the 70-80 people still missing at the end of the day yesterday, according to the township official.

U Aung Zaw, the Kalaywa township National League for Democracy secretary, said a party campaign team arrived in Gazet village, Kalaywa township, yesterday morning, but instead of canvassing, the group began assisting the rescuers.

“[The team] helped bring four passengers who had serious injuries to the Kalaywa hospital,” he said, adding that they had been cut by a broken glass cover on the upper deck of the boat that shattered before the vessel capsized.

U Aung Zaw also said all of the dead recovered yesterday were women. They have yet to be identified.

A 20-year-old local resident said the boat was crammed with about 100 people before it hit an eddy and sank. He also said that an army unit came to assist the rescuers on the water yesterday.

Ko Kyaw Thet Win, chair of the Upper Chindwin Youth Network, blamed the slew of accidents on the Chindwin River on careless driving. He said that crashes happen frequently in the area, due to a lack of safety checks and routine maintenance. He speculated that the Ya Zar Tun appeared to have been overloaded, and may have sunk due to an imbalance. The official cause of the accident remains unknown, however.

A ferry disaster in March off the coast of Rakhine State officially claimed 72 lives, while survivors’ say the actual toll is much higher. The Aung Takon 3’s ship log recorded 214 passengers and crew, though it was officially licensed to carry just 176. Those on board claim there were over 400 people stuffed on to the boat, which was also heavily overloaded with cargo, including some even crammed into the toilets.

The accident prompted a closer examination of the state of the government’s underfunded ferry network, and the Inland Water Transport promised more stringent safety checks, training for staff and onboard demonstrations.

Monday 2 November 2015

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Sinai plane crash: first bodies arrive in Russia, Family members providing DNA samples

The bodies of 140 of the people killed when a Russian airliner crashed in Egypt’s Sinai desert have begun arriving back home in Saint Petersburg as Russian officials confirmed the aircraft broke up in the air.

The crash killed all 224 people onboard after disaster struck at high altitude, prompting aviation experts to speculate that a sudden mechanical failure or a midair explosion could have been to blame.

The remains of victims were to be taken in a motorcade to a crematorium in Saint Petersburg for identification, which will begin later on Monday, according to Russia’s emergency ministry, which organised the flight.

Family members have been providing DNA samples at a crisis centre set up close to the airport, now the site of an impromptu memorial where people are bringing flowers and cuddly toys to commemorate the victims, many of them children as young as 10 months old.

In Egypt, investigators had rushed to the scene of the wreckage after the crash where 163 bodies had been recovered by Sunday afternoon. Some were found several miles away from the twisted and blackened remains of the Airbus A321. Many personal effects were strewn about with the wreckage in the desert.

Victor Sorochenko, the head of Russia’s interstate aviation committee, said it was too early to draw firm conclusions but it was clear that the plane had broken up in flight on its way from Sharm el-Sheikh to St Petersburg.

That, according to experts, could indicate a bomb caused the disaster, although an explosive decompression from a technical failure is equally possible. The aircraft, built in 1997, suffered a tail strike in 2001, where the rear end of the plane touches the runway on takeoff. It underwent extensive repairs.

At least one major air disaster, a Japan Airlines crash, has been ascribed to weakness caused by similar repairs years earlier. Tony Cable, a former senior investigator at the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch, said “any weakness or fatigue would be bad news” in that part of the plane.

On Saturday, a militant group affiliated to Islamic State in Egypt claimed responsibility for bringing down the Metrojet, or Kogalymavia, Airbus A321 “in response to Russian airstrikes that killed hundreds of Muslims on Syrian land” – a reference to the aerial bombing campaign recently begun by Vladimir Putin.

Technical or mechanical failure, the firing of a missile or an onboard explosion are being investigated as possible causes of the Airbus A321 crash

However, Egypt and Russia both disputed the group’s claim, suggesting militants in northern Sinai, where Egypt has been fighting an Islamic insurgency, did not have the weaponry to hit a flight at 9,000 metres (31,000ft).

In a bid to help recover bodies and examine evidence from the disaster, Russia’s emergencies ministry sent more than 100 workers to the crash site in Egypt, which is spread over nearly 15 sq km (6 sq miles). They are being joined by staff from the French accident investigation agency, BEA, who will provide technical expertise as the aircraft was designed in France, as well as investigators from Germany, where the plane was manufactured, and Russia, where the Kogalymavia airline operates.

The dead, including more than 20 children, were all Russian apart from four Ukrainians and one person from Belarus.

Russian officials said the revelation that the aircraft broke up in midair did not necessarily mean a bomb had caused the tragedy. News agency Interfax reported that Russia’s transport safety watchdog, Rostransnadzor, had ordered Kogalymavia to ground its fleet of Airbus A321s until the cause of the disaster had been established. An official from Kogalymavia said it was discussing the timing of the safety checks and would take its Airbus A321 planes out of active use one by one without disrupting its flight schedule.

The plane was one of the oldest A321s in service, although its age is not regarded as excessive. It was previously operated by the Lebanese company Middle East Airlines, Turkey’s Onur Air, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Syrian company Cham Wings Airlines. It had flown 56,000 hours in nearly 21,000 flights.

An Egyptian ground service official who examined the plane before takeoff told the Associated Press it appeared to be in good condition: “Everything checked out in 35 minutes.”

However, a Russian TV channel said a pilot had expressed doubts about its condition. Natalya Trukhacheva, identified as the wife of co-pilot Sergei Trukhachev, was reported as saying he had complained before the flight “that the technical condition of the aircraft left much to be desired”.

Kogalymavia failed a safety inspection in 2014 but reportedly rectified the violations and its planes had not been involved in serious crashes before. A Kogalymavia Tu-154 caught fire on the runway in Surgut on 1 January 2011, however, killing three people and injuring 44.

The aircraft took off at 5.51am Cairo time (03.51 GMT) on Saturday and disappeared from radar screens 23 minutes later, Egypt’s civil aviation ministry said in a statement. According to FlightRadar24, an authoritative flight tracking service based in Sweden, it descended rapidly at about 1,800 metres a minute.

Monday 2 November 2015

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Four babies among 13 migrants who drowned after two boats capsize on deadly crossing from Turkey to Greece

At least 13 migrants including four babies drowned when two boats making the perilous crossing from Turkey to Greece capsized today.

One boat overturned off the Greek island of Samos - just 20 metres from the shore. Ten bodies, including six children - four of them babies - were found in the vessel's cabin while one was discovered washed up on the island.

Two others were still missing with coastguards saying 15 were plucked from the water.

A boat from the European border agency Frontex also recovered two bodies near the island of Farmakonnisi, near Samos, after what is believed to be a separate capsizing.

Frontex managed to rescued three others, who said their boat was carrying 15 people when it sank in Turkish waters.

Greek authorities and the Turkish coastguard 'continue to search the zone to find the migrants who disappeared in the sinking, which probably took place off the Turkish coast'.

The new sinkings add to a string of migrant boat tragedies since Monday off the Greek islands of Lesbos, Kalymnos and Rhodes in which more than 60 people have drowned, at least 28 of them children.

Photographs have been emerging of lifeless bodies washing up on Lesbos.

On Friday alone, 22 people, including 17 children, lost their lives trying to cross to the eastern Aegean islands from Turkey, to which more than two million Syrian refugees have fled.

That followed another tragic day on Wednesday when 24 migrants - 11 of them children - died in five shipwrecks off Lesbos, Samos and Agathonisi.

Since the beginning of the year, 580,125 migrants have landed on Greece’s shores, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, with a total of 723,221 crossing the Mediterranean to Europe.

Monday 2 November 2015

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Wreckage believed to be of doomed ship El Faro which vanished with 33 crew on board found in 15,000ft deep water near where it sunk during Hurricane Joaquin

Wreckage believed to be of the doomed ship El Faro, which sank off the coast of the Bahamas with 33 crew on board, has been found by the US Navy.

Officials said a search team is believed to have found the ship in 15,000ft deep water near its last known position.

The 790ft cargo vessel vanished on October 1 after sailing directly into the path of Hurricane Joaquin following a 'hull breach'.

A statement from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said a US Navy ship used sonar to detect the wreckage, but will need to confirm its identity with a deep ocean search vehicle. It could take up to 15 days to do this.

El Faro's captain called in an emergency before the vessel disappeared saying the ship had lost its engine power, was taking in water and was listing.

The ship, which was slated to be replaced, was on its voyage from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with 33 mostly American crewmembers when it sunk.

Investigators said Michael Davidson intended to pass 65 miles from the center of the Category 4 storm, a decision maritime experts said was risky, but then plowed full steam towards it.

Earlier this month debris believed to be from the cargo ship washed ashore on the Bahamas.

Part of a refrigeration unit that was discovered at the edge of a beach on the island of Great Exuma was confirmed to be from the doomed ship.

The tracking number on the large piece of cargo, SEG9028902, proved a match when compared with information found on Tote Maritime’s customer tracking system.

Besides the refrigeration system, other items that possibly came from El Faro have been washing ashore on Exuma and San Salvador, including dozens of containers of body wash and deodorant, shaving cream, syringes and tennis shoes.

The El Faro and its 33 mostly American crew members disappeared October 1 after sailing into the path of Hurricane Joaquin in the worst cargo shipping disaster involving a US-flagged vessel since 1983.

The ship's owner, New Jersey-based Tote Inc, has previously said the loss of propulsion is likely what doomed the ship as it was engulfed by high seas whipped up by Joaquin.

According to the NTSB, electronic distress alerts were received by the US Coast Guard from three separate sources on board El Faro but the Coast Guard never had direct voice communications with the ship.

In a recorded satellite phone call Captain Michael Davidson told the ship's owner he had a 'hull breach' after taking on water in one of the holds, the NTSB said Tuesday.

It said the captain also reported that the ship had lost its main propulsion unit and that engineers could not get it restarted.

Monday 2 November 2015

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