Saturday, 23 June 2012

Eight killed, 44 injured in Croatia bus crash

A Czech bus carrying about 50 passengers crashed near a tunnel in Croatia early Saturday, killing eight people and injuring at least 44, the national rescue services said.

"A bus with Czech licence plates drove through a safety barrier and turned over" near a tunnel in Sveti Rok, some 230 kilometres (138 miles) south of Zagreb, the National Protection and Rescue Directorate said.

The accident occurred around 4:00 am (0200 GMT) on the road to the Adriatic city of Split, a popular tourist destination.

The injured were taken to a hospital in nearby Gospic, while victims with serious injuries were being transferred by a military helicopter to the capital Zagreb, the rescuers said.

Local media said the bus hit the barrier, turned over and smashed into a concrete fence opposite. There were 50 passengers, police spokeswoman Kristina Maodus told Nova TV.

All of them were Czech nationals, the channel said, quoting unconfirmed reports. 

Saturday 23 June 2012

continue reading

Death toll rises as survival hopes fade

Rescuers have found two more bodies from a capsized asylum seeker boat, bringing the death toll to five. But ninety passengers from the overcrowded boat are still unaccounted for.

One hundred and nine people have been rescued since the crowded vessel capsized on Thursday afternoon about halfway between the Indonesian island of Java and Christmas Island.

Authorities says it is unlikely more survivors will be found.

Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said today poor weather was hampering the search, which resumed at first light. Australian Maritime Safety Authority representative Jo Meehan said three aircraft and one boat continued the search for survivors overnight but no bodies or survivors were found.

At about 7am today, another three aircraft and extra boats joined the search. Ms Meehan said while they were “still in that period of survivability“, the likelihood of people being found alive will diminish by the afternoon. “We are operating under conditions that include the water temperature, the weather, the fact that we now there were life jackets on board, rafts and debris,” Ms Meehan said. “At the moment we are operating on the basis that they will be able to survive for two days.”

It was likely the rescue would turn to a recovery operation in the early evening, she said.

Twenty WA Police Officers have been deployed to Christmas Island where 109 rescued passengers of the 200 males from the stricken vessel have been taken.

Acting Superintendent Neville Dockery said today the a mix of experienced investigators and forensic DVI officers were heading to the area where they would work with partner agencies including the Australian Federal Police. “Our role, from the West Australian police side, is mainly to investigate this tragedy on behalf of the coroner,” Supt. Dockery said. “It is a terrible tragedy and unfortunately we believe that there are still many people that are missing at sea, but we are very experienced in each roles and some of the people that I’m bringing with me we’ve deployed to horrendous bushfires, we’ve deployed to Bali and some of them have actually attended Christmas Island on previous occasions.”

Supt. Dockery said it is not known when the officers will return to Perth. Rescuers have told how they plucked desperate asylum seekers from wild seas that claimed the lives of dozens of boat people attempting to reach Australia for a new life.

The captains of two merchant ships that dashed to answer mayday calls from the overcrowded asylum seeker boat told The Weekend West of their crews' bravery in dangerous waters on Thursday evening.

The search for survivors will continue into this afternoon but authorities held little hope last night of rescuing anyone else. 

No survivors were found yesterday but many of the 109 asylum seekers saved, including a 13-year-old boy, arrived at Christmas Island in the morning.

Officials have identified five unaccompanied minors among the group. Only the bodies of three men were recovered but up to 100 people are feared to have drowned when the boat capsized about 185km north-west of Christmas Island in international waters halfway between the island and Indonesia.

Survivors being brought into Flying Fish Cove last night. Picture: Lincoln Baker/The West Australian The boat had about 200 male passengers, most of whom were believed to be Afghans but some survivors told rescuers they were from Pakistan.

 Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said the water temperature was about 29C so experts believed people could survive in the water wearing a lifejacket or clinging to debris for 36 hours. 

 But that survival window expired overnight. "They've seen more debris, they've seen lifejackets and unfortunately seen more dead bodies and we need to brace ourselves for more bad news," Mr Clare said. 

Several merchant vessels helped navy patrol boats HMAS Larrakia and HMAS Wollongong during the rescue, including the Esperance-bound Cape Oceania.

The cargo ship's master, Xu Liansheng, said that by the time he reached the scene four hours after the mayday call, many people were already in lifeboats. "We just saw empty lifejackets," he said.

His crew's rescue boat spent 90 minutes trawling the rough seas and managed to pull four people out of the water.

Capt. Xu said the four survivors were in good health with the only injury a cut finger. They were dropped at Christmas Island at 7.30am yesterday.

Each man told the captain he was Pakistani and they gave their names and ages as Asghar, 35, Musadig, 33, Sayed, 25 and Najmul, 22.

He said they pleaded to be taken to Australia and did not want to be returned to Indonesia. "They were a little bit scared. We gave them some Chinese food and water," Capt. Xu said.

The crew of another merchant ship, the JPO Vulpecula, saved 27 people. "They were OK.

We had two injuries and we handed them over to Christmas Island," Capt. E. Bilango said. "I didn't see many bodies in the water but I saw some lifejackets without people in them."

Refugee groups questioned why authorities failed to respond sooner after it was revealed the boat made a distress call on Tuesday night.

Mr Clare said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority had directed the boat to return to Indonesia after the call.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said yesterday was not the day for politics but crossbench MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor urged them to negotiate a compromise to restore offshore processing.

Angry WA Liberal MP Mal Washer said the tragedy made him feel "ashamed" to be part of a Parliament that could not find a bipartisan solution. "Every option needs to be on the table," Dr Washer said. "Let's get some humanity back and let's get bipartisanship back. "I'm a doc. This is a tragedy and we believe in prevention. "We're not clowns. Let's grow up and do something to stop this."

Dr Washer said that if the compromise was processing asylum seekers on both Nauru and Malaysia, "let's do both". Transport Minister Anthony Albanese also pushed for a speedy resolution on asylum-seeker policy. “I note Dr Washer’s genuine comments,” he said. “And I think certainly I am of the view, and the Government is of the view, that we want to work together across the parliament to secure an outcome that reduces the possibility of a tragedy like this being repeated.”

Three survivors were airlifted to Royal Perth Hospital under police guard and three are getting medical treatment at the Christmas Island hospital. A small number of WA police and emergency services workers had joined the rescue effort, Colin Barnett said.

The Premier said WA was likely to hold a coronial inquest. "It's extremely dangerous, an extremely hazardous undertaking and a human tragedy of great scale," he said.

Up to 20 WA police disaster victim identification specialists are expected to go to Christmas Island today.

Saturday 23 June 2012

continue reading