Friday, 27 September 2013

20 dead, many missing, as asylum-seeker boat sinks off Indonesia

At least 20 people, mostly children, drowned and scores are missing after an Australia-bound boat carrying Middle Eastern asylum-seekers sank off Indonesia, police said on Friday.

Twenty-five people were plucked to safety but about 75 were unaccounted for after the boat carrying people from Lebanon, Jordan and Yemen went down off the main Indonesian island of Java, police said.

It came just days before new Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott visits Indonesia for talks likely to focus on his tough policies aimed at stemming the flow of asylum-seekers.

Warsono, a police official in Cianjur district on Java, said the bodies were discovered floating in an estuary on Friday morning.

"Local people found 20 dead bodies floating in the water, most of them are children," he said. "The number of deaths may increase."

"Local people said their boat had broken into several pieces," said the official, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, although he did not know when the accident happened.

A spokesman for the Indonesian search and rescue agency said that four of its boats, along with fishing boats, had earlier been searching for the missing.

The search had been called off when it got dark and would resume again on Saturday, he said.

Warsono said that the boat was believed to have been carrying 120 people when it went down and had been heading for the Australian territory of Christmas Island.

They had departed from the fishing town of Pelabuhan Ratu, in the district of Sukabumi, on the south coast of western Java, he said.

Hundreds of asylum-seekers from around the world have died in recent years trying to make the treacherous sea crossing from Indonesia to Australia on rickety, wooden boats.

They normally pay people-smugglers huge sums to make the crossings, and almost always head for Christmas Island, which is far closer to Indonesia than it is to the Australian mainland.

17 Lebanese dead

Lebanese officials in Jakarta said the boat carrying at least 80 people sunk earlier Friday, 12 hours by sea off the Indonesian coast on its way to Australia. The boat was said to be carrying migrants from different nationalities.

At least seventeen Lebanese including a number of children drowned on their way to Australia in a boat accident off the coast of Indonesia, a local official said Friday.

“I only have confirmation that 17 people have died on the boat,” Ali Hussein, mukhtar of the northern village of Qabeet, where the victims are from, told The Daily Star.

"We don't have any information as to how many Lebanese are on the ferry," the Lebanese embassy official said.

An Indonesian official said 20 bodies were found floating in the water, most of them children, and that 25 adults had so far been rescued from the boat alive, according to AFP.

The National News Agency published the names of some of the men, women and children who died on the ferry.

Among the victims were nine members from the family of a local man who the mukhtar identified as Hussein Ahmad Khodr.

President Michel Sleiman, who had just returned from New York after attending the United Nations General Assembly meeting, instructed officials to follow up on the incident and asked them to take the necessary measures, a statement from his office said.

Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati urged officials at the Lebanese Embassy in Jakarta to coordinate with Indonesian authorities and uncover the circumstances surrounding it as well as determining the fate of the Lebanese travelers.

Residents of Qabeet are mourning the death of their relatives and most of them will not be able to provide their loved ones with proper burial, the local mukhtar said.

Hussein added that many from the Akkar village sell all of their belongings and property to make the trip to Indonesia and travel by sea to Australia “seeking a better life.”

“The situation is very difficult to deal with because bringing the bodies to the village will be very costly,” he added.

Hussein also said that he tried to convince many of the residents to look for an alternative given that traveling on a boat to Australia was very risky.

“They come to me to prepare their passport documents so they could travel to Indonesia ... I try to advise them but they want a better life for their families,” he said.

The village’s Imam Sheikh Ali Khodr, the cousin of the man whose family died in the incident, said his relative contacted him earlier Friday and told him about the accident.

“He told me that his eight children and wife drowned but authorities only retrieved the bodies of the mother and two of his daughters,” Khodr told The Daily Star.

“When he left with his family, we all started crying because we did not know when we would see them again,” he said.

The sheikh added that his cousin was among many residents of the village and surrounding areas who were “fooled” by what he described as mafias who prepare the visas to Indonesia and the boat trips to the Australian coast.

Friday 27 September 2013

continue reading

Mont Blanc climber finds £205,000 worth of Indian jewels believed to be from plane crash on glacier

It was an unexpected find for the young French alpinist as he approached the summit of Mont Blanc. Poking out of the ice and snow on the shoulder of western Europe's highest mountain was a metal box containing precious gems – including emeralds, rubies and sapphires – worth hundreds of thousands of euros that had lain hidden for about 50 years.

The precious stones, around 100 in total, were neatly packed into sachets, some marked with "Made in India". It soon became clear that the historic haul, which has since been valued by jewellers at up €246,000 (£205,000), had belonged to someone on one of two Air India flights that crashed in 1950 and 1966, killing a total of more than 100 people.

The climber carried the treasure down the mountain and straight to local police. The prefect's office is now contacting Indian authorities to see if it is possible to trace the owner or their relatives.

"You can say the climber who made this find is someone very honest," local gendarme chief Sylvain Merly said.

"He saw very well that what he had in his hands was something very valuable, realising straight away that it was precious stones that had been very carefully wrapped.

"He was a mountaineer, he knew the history of the two plane crashes here and realised that this find was likely linked to those crashes. "Maybe he didn't want to keep something that had belonged to someone who died. So he handed it in."

Merly said the find was made on the Bossons glacier, which had often spewed to the surface "all sorts of remnants" from the Air India crashes. These have included newspapers from the flights, letters, shoes, cables and fragments of the planes, or even human remains.

Last year, two climbers on the glacier discovered a well-preserved bag of Indian diplomatic mail neatly marked "Ministry of External Affairs" that had been on the Boeing 707 flight from Mumbai to New York that crashed near the summit of Mont Blanc on a January morning in 1966 .

That crash killed all 11 crew and 106 passengers, including the pioneer of India's nuclear programme, Homi Jehangir Bhaba. The plane hit the mountain just below the summit after its experienced pilot had radioed confirming everything was okay, and was expected to land at Geneva airport in Switzerland to refuel.

The cause of the crash was never fully established. The mail bag, found 46 years later by a mountain rescue worker and a fellow climber in 2012, was handed back to the Indian government.

In 1950, another Air India flight, a four-motor propeller plane, crashed near the same spot killing 48 passengers and crew as it was expected to land at Geneva.

The prefect's office of Savoie will now contact the Indian authorities to try to return the jewels to the family of the original owner. It is thought that the jewels are more likely to have come from the 1966 crash. The local French paper, the Dauphiné Libéré reported that if an owner is not found, under French law, the jewels could be given back to the climber, who has not been named.

Mont Blanc, hailed as one of the world's most beautiful mountains, also has a deadly history of dangerous storms and fatal avalanches.

Arnaud Christmann, one of the men who found the diplomatic mail last year, warned it could spark a "gold rush".

He said he was worried inexperienced climbers might be tempted to try to seek their fortune on the glacier, which is easy to access but dangerous.

Friday 27 September 2013

continue reading

Kenya shopping mall attack: UK forensic teams lend expertise to search through Westgate rubble

Britain, the US and Israel are among the five nations sending their own forensic experts to help search the rubble of the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi to find and identify the bodies of those killed.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack which began last Saturday, Prime Minister David Cameron phoned the Kenyan authorities to offer any assistance that Britain could provide.

That offer was accepted, according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with a team of forensic experts arriving in Nairobi on 23 September.

The key focus of their role is to work with the British High Commissioner and ascertain the full extent of the UK casualties in the attack. The number of British people reported to have been killed has already been revised a number of times, between a low of three and a high of six, and could yet rise again.

The experts will also help with the work coroners in the UK need to do in carrying out necessary inquests, but their role is not exclusively in a British capacity.

Involvement in response to a number of recent disasters across the world means that the UK has some of the most experienced investigative teams for dealing with this kind of incident.

Karen Squibb-Williams, director of communication and in-house counsel for the Forensic Science Society, told the BBC: “The experts who have been sent to Kenya will most probably be crime scene managers who are used to attending scenes of major homicides on a regular basis.

“In the wake of the experience of 9/11, and to some extent as a result of the 7/7 bombing in London, the UK has developed considerable skills in assisting with violent incidents.

“In particular we played an enormous part in helping with the aftermath of identification challenges after the tsunami.”

She said the UK police and forensic scientists working in tandem now have a “very strong capability” in what is known as disaster victim identification.

“This could include setting up temporary mortuaries and, if necessary accessing dental records as well as, where appropriate, having effective processes to access information efficiently,” she added.

“DNA analysis is also, of course, a forensic field in which the UK has a particularly strong reputation for capability and innovation.”

Part of the Westgate mall collapsed towards the end of the four-day siege following last Saturday's attack, burying bodies and slowing investigations, although experts have started work even while the army continues to comb the building for further explosives.

Officials say the death toll of 61 civilians, six members of the security forces and five militants is unlikely to rise much further, although some of the attackers’ bodies may still be buried.

However, the Red Cross has said there were still 71 people listed as missing.

Kenya’s chief pathologist, Johansen Oduor, said his team was removing bullets and shrapnel from victims to find out exactly how they were killed, then handing them over to police as evidence.

‘‘A lot of them died from bullet wounds - the body, the head, all over,’’ he said.

‘‘Some also died from grenades, shrapnel.’’

He refused to reveal how many bodies were in the morgue but said he was told to expect more - though he would not say how many.

It was the largest terrorist attack in Kenya since the 1998 bombing of the United States Embassy, and FBI agents were dispatched to do fingerprint, DNA and ballistic analysis on the bodies. They were joined by investigators from Britain, Germany and Canada.

As the investigation continued into the mall attack, FBI agents from New York City, including members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, bomb squad technicians and evidence recovery specialists arrived in Nairobi, a US law enforcement official confirmed.

The international investigation is being coordinated by Interpol, which sent an incident response team that arrived in Nairobi on Wednesday, the Kenyan government said.

The Interpol team includes disaster victim identification and data specialists who will carry out real-time comparisons of evidence collected inside the mall against the France-based agency’s database on DNA and fingerprints from its 190-member country network, said Interpol official Jean-Michel Louboutin.

‘‘Whether it be through comparison of information against Interpol’s global databases, or the issuance of a notice to identify a victim, locate a wanted person, or seek additional information about suspects, we will offer all necessary assistance to help bring those responsible to justice,’’ Louboutin said in a statement.

Teams with sniffer dogs entered the bullet-riddled mall, apparently to check for explosives and victims buried under the rubble of a collapsed part of the building.

Forensic teams could take at least a week to gather evidence, Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said. "The army told us we would get access to the bodies yesterday, but then said it was too dangerous," a Red Cross official said.

Friday 27 September 2013

continue reading

Pacific Southwest Airlines' Flight 182 disaster marks 35th anniversary

Wednesday marked 35 years since 144 people lost their lives in the PSA Flight 182 disaster.

While flying over San Diego in 1978, Pacific Southwest Airlines’ Boeing 727 collided with a Cessna mid-air.

The planes crashed in San Diego's North Park area, killing 135 people onboard the Boeing, two men on the Cessna and seven people on the ground. A total of 22 surrounding homes were destroyed or damaged.

To commemorate the victims of the plane crash, San Diegans gathered on Wednesday around noon near the crash site at Dwight and Nile Streets. They set up a makeshift memorial with candles, flowers, newspaper clippings from 1978 and pictures of the victims.

Their names were etched in chalk along the sidewalk.

The PSA Flight 182 crash is still the deadliest aircraft disaster in California’s history.

Friday 27 September 2013


continue reading

Death toll rises to 356 in quake-hit Balochistan, rescue plagued by militant attacks

The death toll from a massive earthquake that jolted southwest Pakistan rose to 356 on Thursday, with officials saying that thousands have been left homeless and about 300,000 people had been affected in remote parts of Balochistan province.

The 7.7-magnitude quake struck Tuesday afternoon in the province, toppling thousands of mud-built homes as it spread havoc through Awaran and Kech districts and the southwestern parts of the country.

At least 356 people have been confirmed dead and 619 others wounded, according to Balochistan government spokesperson Mohammad Jan Buledi.

Buledi told that six more bodies of earthquake victims were retrieved from Awaran district of Balochistan on Thursday.

He added that communications systems in the sparsely populated province were badly affected as a result of the earthquake and that rescue workers were facing difficulties in reaching survivors in remote areas of the province.

"I fear there may be more bodies buried under the rubble," Buledi further said.

However, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said it would use its own available resources for the rescue and relief, despite offers for help by the United Nations agencies, international donors and some countries.

“We have enough resources to cope with the situation that has emerged after the earthquake in Awaran and Kech, although international donors and some friendly countries have also offered their cooperation,” NDMA Chairman Maj Gen Mohammad Saeed Aleem said.

Over the next several days, survivors and rescue workers will experience dry conditions with light winds. However, temperatures during the middle of the day will be near 100, possibly causing issues with dehydration and heat stress for both rescuers and those affected by the earthquake.

The death toll is expected to increase along with reports of damaged and destroyed buildings throughout the region as the rescue efforts continue. Authorities estimate that 21,000 houses have been destroyed.

Pakistan appeals to militants over earthquake

Officials in Pakistan have made an appeal to separatist militant groups in the south-western province affected by the deadly earthquake to halt attacks.

A spokesman for the Balochistan regional government said insurgent attacks were hampering rescue and relief efforts in some districts.

At least 348 people died and hundreds were injured when a 7.7-magnitude quake hit the region on Tuesday.

Rescue teams are still trying to reach affected areas.

The government said that official rescue teams have not been able to reach many affected areas because of poor road networks, says the BBC's Shahzeb Jillani, in Quetta.

Officials estimate that about 300,000 people in six districts have been affected by the earthquake. Survivors need more provisions like food and water and there is also a lack of doctors and medical supplies.

Pakistan's official paramilitary force, the Frontier Corps, has been leading rescue and relief operations.

It already had thousands of soldiers deployed in the area because it is fighting a long-running separatist insurgency by Baloch nationalist rebels.

On Thursday an army helicopter carrying the head of Pakistan's national disaster agency, Maj Gen Alam Saeed, escaped a rocket attack, reports say.

Later, members of the Frontier Corps also came under fire in Awaran, the district worst affected by the quake.

The force stands accused of enforced disappearances and rights abuses in the impoverished and lawless province.

Western aid workers and international charity groups have long been discouraged from working in Balochistan - Pakistan's largest but least populated province.

The quake occurred at a depth of 20km (13 miles) north-east of Awaran, the US Geological Survey said. Many houses were flattened, forcing thousands of people to spend nights in the open.

Awaran is considered a hotbed of the separatist movement and is also the home of a leading separatist militant, correspondents say.

Tuesday's quake was so powerful it was felt as far away as India's capital, Delhi, and Dubai.

Friday 27 September 2013

continue reading

Somaliland: National Massacre Investigations Committee appeals for support

Citizens have been asked to deter from establishing homesteads or settling in known sites of mass graves anywhere in the country.

According to the National Massacre Investigations Committee-NMIC the encroachment on mass grave sites is a major encumbrances to national efforts geared towards chronicling the sites which is the committee's main mandate.

At a press conference held at the NMIC headquarters in Hargeisa the committee's Chairperson Kadar Ahmed Lekey urged regional and local authorities to help protect the mass graves sites in their areas by deterring encroachment.

The National Massacre Investigations Committee is the body mandated with investigating sands unearthing crimes against humanity committed during the reign of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre especially in the 1980's when over 50,000 somalilanders were butchered and a majority haphazardly buried in Mass graves.

"If the current trend of settling in known mass graves sites observed by NMIC is not reversed then the only evidence of Barre's crimes against humanity shall be minimal thus difficult to pursue prosecution of perpetrators wherever they are" said Lekey.

On the issue of expanding the committee's activities nationwide Mr. Lekey who informed that only the headquarters in the capital city Hargeisa is currently operational said, "We are in the process of establishing regional offices once budgetary constraints are overcome"

While urging concerted efforts by all somalilanders towards preserving the mass graves the NMIC also appealed for support especially regards to suspected sites of mass graves.

In 2012 an exercise to unearth mass graves in the country jointly undertaken by the The Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team – EPAF and the Somaliland National Massacre Investigations Committee-NMIC the revealed the existence of over 200 mass graves officially recorded thence target for subsequent exhumations that saw the EPAF mission manage only a few within Hargeisa and Gabile regions.

While informing that most of the mass graves documented has a minimum of 12 corpses the national Massacre investigations committee, which is supported the EPAF gave the following breakdown of mass graves so far identified:

I. Hargeisa (Maroodi-Jeeh region) - 200 mass graves

II. Berbera (Sahil region) - 12 mass graves

III. Burao (Toghdeer region) - 8 mass graves

IV. Sheikh (Sahil region) - 1 mass grave

V. Erigavo (Sanaag region) - 2 mass graves

VI. Arabsiyo (Gabile region) - 1 mass grave

The joint EPAF and NMIC exhumations result from the enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture and other human rights violations perpetrated during the reign of dictator Siad Barre whose underlings are credited with the over 60,000 deaths and hundreds of unexplained disappearances

One of the main perpetrators in this case is General Mohamed Ali Samatar, who was Vice President and Defense Minister of the Democratic Republic of Somalia from 1980 to 1986. In January 1987, Samatar took over as Prime Minister of Somalia, until the fall of Barre dictatorship in 1990.

The Peruvian Forensic Team-EPAF which also trained local forensic personnel and college students of biomedical sciences in order to avail of the country relevant forensic expertise is a non-profit organization that promotes the right to truth, justice, and guarantees of non-repetition in cases of forced disappearance and extrajudicial execution. EPAF seeks to contribute to the consolidation of peace and democracy where grave human rights violations have taken place by working alongside the families of the disappeared to find their loved ones, gain access to justice, and improve the conditions affecting their political and economic development.

Friday 27 September 2013

continue reading

Up to 70 feared trapped in Mumbai building collapse

A five-storey residential building collapsed in Mumbai at daybreak on Friday in the latest accident in India's financial capital, with up to 70 feared trapped inside.

Crowds formed around the rubble of the completely flattened block, owned by the city's civic administrative body the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, in the east of the city.

"My son is inside. I'm waiting for them to get him out," distraught 62-year-old retiree Mithi Solakani told AFP as rescue workers scrambled over tonnes of debris.

Several diggers were pressed into action to lift some of the larger slabs of concrete, allowing teams of rescuers to begin the grim task of taking out bodies.

One was removed covered in dark red cloth and carried to a waiting ambulance on a stretcher. Crowds of women waiting nearby could be heard sobbing.

Local people estimated between 40-60 people lived in the destroyed block, while the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said preliminary information indicated 22 families were housed there.

"We think up to 70 people are trapped," Alok Avasthy from the NDMA told AFP at the scene.

Local city administrator Manisha Mahiskar had earlier put the number of missing much lower, at around 20.

Seven people had been pulled out alive, she said.

Five other apartment blocks have collapsed in or close to Mumbai in recent months, including one in April that killed 74 people.

They have highlighted poor quality construction and violations of the building code, caused by massive demand for housing and endemic corruption.

Friday 27 September 2013

continue reading

19 killed in bus accident in Sirmaur district of Himachal

Nineteen people were killed and another critically injured when a bus rolled down a 600-feet deep gorge near Ransua-Jabrog village in Sirmaur district on Friday morning.

The bus with 20 passengers on board was on its way from Uchha Takkar to Renuka when the mishap occurred.The bus broke into pieces and some of the bodies recovered from the wreckage were mutilated beyond recognition.

While 18 persons died on the spot, an injured person succumbed to his injuries in Dadhau hospital, Sirmaur Deputy Commissioner, Vikas Labroo said from the spot.

Bodies of all the 18 persons have been recovered from the gorge and a critically injured passenger has been rushed to a hospital at Dadahu.

The bodies were brought to roadside by rescue teams led by SDM, Sangrah, Harish Negi and local people and sent for post-mortem.

Search operations were hampered as some of the bodies were covered under thick grass and the slopes had become slippery due to rains.

The bodies are being identified but almost all the victims hail from Uchha Takkar, Ransua-Jabrog and surrounding villages.

Himachal governor Urmilla Singh, chief minister Virbhadra Singh, transport minister G S Bali and former Speaker Ganguram Musafir expressed grief over tragedy and conveyed their condolences to bereaved families. SHIMLA: Nineteen people were killed and another critically injured when a bus rolled down a 600-feet deep gorge near Ransua-Jabrog village in Sirmaur district on Friday morning.

The bus with 20 passengers on board was on its way from Uchha Takkar to Renuka when the mishap occurred.The bus broke into pieces and some of the bodies recovered from the wreckage were mutilated beyond recognition.

While 18 persons died on the spot, an injured person succumbed to his injuries in Dadhau hospital, Sirmaur Deputy Commissioner, Vikas Labroo said from the spot.

Bodies of all the 18 persons have been recovered from the gorge and a critically injured passenger has been rushed to a hospital at Dadahu.

The bodies were brought to roadside by rescue teams led by SDM, Sangrah, Harish Negi and local people and sent for post-mortem.

Search operations were hampered as some of the bodies were covered under thick grass and the slopes had become slippery due to rains.

The bodies are being identified but almost all the victims hail from Uchha Takkar, Ransua-Jabrog and surrounding villages.

Himachal governor Urmilla Singh, chief minister Virbhadra Singh, transport minister G S Bali and former Speaker Ganguram Musafir expressed grief over tragedy and conveyed their condolences to bereaved families.

Friday 27 September 2013

continue reading

13 drown, seven missing in Rukwa boat accident

At least 13 people drowned and seven others are missing after a boat they were sailing in capsized near Kasere Village in Kalambo District, Rukwa Region, on Lake Tanganyika on Wednesday, police said.

The Rukwa Regional Police Commander (RPC), Mr Jacob Mwaruanda, said the boat had 30 passengers and only 10 survived after they either managed to swim to the shore or rescued. “We have launched a manhunt for the pilot of the ill-fated boat, one Lazaro Sikapote (26).

“He is alleged to have overloaded the boat. He is among those who swum to the shore,” the RPC told the ‘Daily News’ from the scene of the accident.

Mr Mwaruanda said the boat is owned by Mr Jestars Sikazwa and had the capacity to carry 25 passengers only, but had 30 passengers on the material day.

“Both the boat pilot and the owner disappeared after the accident, but we are still hunting them for causing the accident and operating the boat without registration,” he said. Mr Mwaruanda said two out of the 11 bodies, were of women.

The rest were children aged between two and five years old. He said they were travelling from Kasere to Kipwa. “They are believed to have been mothers who were taking their children to a clinic at Kipwa village for vaccination because Kapere village has no clinic,” said the RPC.

Mr Mwaruanda pointed out that the people had to use boats or canoes because there is no other way to reach Kipwa village other than using boats or canoes.

The deceased’s bodies were handed over to their families yesterday morning at Kasere village.

According to the RPC, the rescue exercise, jointly carried out by the Surface and Marine Transport Regulatory Authority (SUMATRA) and the Police Force was still going on.

Friday 27 September 2013

continue reading