Friday, 25 April 2014

South Korea admits ferry disaster dead bodies given to wrong families

As visiting President Barack Obama offered South Koreans his condolences Friday for the ferry disaster, the South Korean government conceded that some bodies have been misidentified and announced changes to prevent such mistakes from happening again.

There have been several reports in South Korean media this week of bodies going to the wrong families, with the error sometimes caught only after the remains were taken to a funeral home. An “action plan” released by the government-wide emergency task force acknowledged that “there have been cases where the victims were wrongly transferred.”

Remains will be transferred to families when there is a match using DNA testing or fingerprint or dental records, the task force said. The transfer will be temporary when a body is matched though identification or physical description, and authorities will wait for more authoritative evidence before making the transfer permanent.

Divers have recovered 183 bodies so far, but 119 remain missing and are feared dead in the dark rooms of the submerged vessel.

Search officials including a navy spokesman and a diver said 35 of the ferry’s 111 rooms have been searched so far, Yonhap news agency reported. They said 48 of the bodies recovered were found were in a single large room built to accommodate 38.

The ferry sank April 16 on its way from Incheon port to the southern tourist island of Jeju. More than 80 percent of the 302 dead and missing are students from a single high school in Ansan, south of Seoul.

Friday 25 April 2014

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Another 20 Fromelles diggers identified

A further 20 Australian soldiers killed during the bloody World War I battle at Fromelles have been identified, defence officials have confirmed.

Relatives are being notified after the soldiers became the latest to be identified out of the 250 Australians and Brits recovered from a mass burial site at Pheasant Wood in northern France in 2009.

It takes to 144 the number of Australian diggers identified by a joint Australian-British program which uses DNA and other evidence.

The newly-identified soldiers are likely to have graves dedicated in their names for the first time at a ceremony in Fromelles in July.

'Defence can confirm that a further 20 Australians from the 250 Australian and British World War One soldiers recovered from a mass burial site at Pheasant Wood in France in 2009 have now been identified,' a

Department of Defence spokesman said on Thursday.

An official announcement will be made after the soldiers' families are notified.

There are still 67 Australian and two British soldiers who remain unidentified. Another 37 have been interred as 'A soldier of the Great War - Known unto God'.

The DNA identification program has now officially concluded but the army's Unrecovered War Casualties team will continue to process any new information.

'The Government and Army remain determined to identify as many of the Australians as possible,' the spokesman said.

Fromelles was the first major action involving Australian troops in France in World War I.

It was fought over July 19 and 20 in 1916 and resulted in more than 5500 Australian dead and wounded. Many of the fallen were never found.

The battle is regarded by some as the worst 24 hours in Australian military history.

In 2009 a mass grave was located in Pheasant Wood on the site where German soldiers had buried Australian and British dead.

All the bodies have now been reburied in the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery.

Friday 25 April 2014

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There are still broken bones beneath Bangladesh's collapsed sweat shop

One year ago today, Rana Plaza — a nine-story factory building in Savar, Bangladesh — collapsed, killing 1,116 workers immediately and injuring many more. Some of their bodies are still in the back lot, waiting to be found.

Images of the wrecked building — layers of concrete pancaked from roof to street — made it perfectly clear how severe the collapse had been. A year on, the site looks a lot different from the one you see in those photos; it's now an empty gap in a dense commercial strip, a rare blank in one of the most crowded, swiftly developing nations on Earth. But like the World Trade Center site before it, the grim history of this spot has temporarily delayed redevelopment. Besides an ugly hammer-and-sickle statue left there by some communists, nothing has been added.

Curiously, almost nothing has been taken away, either. A week after the collapse, heavy construction machinery moved in and started to shift the piles of broken concrete to an undeveloped lot a few meters away. The wreckage is still there, unsearched. It is known to contain body parts of workers who died in the collapse. The question is why they're still there and what this means for their families.

At another historical atrocity, some 12 years and 7,000 miles away, the approach to human remains was very different. After the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, a hunt began with the excavation of Ground Zero. Eventually, the results of the search included bone fragments retrieved from locations as far away as the gravel roof of the Deutsche Bank Building. To date, the New York Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (NYOCME) has catalogued over 21,000 human remains and matched two-thirds to the 2,794 victims of 9/11.

Just as 9/11 initially overwhelmed the NYOCME, the Rana Plaza atrocity overwhelmed the Bangladesh National Forensic DNA Profiling Laboratory. In the seven years between January of 2006 and February of 2014, the Bangladeshi lab profiled just 222 homicide cases, or about 31 per year. Rana Plaza immediately killed 1,116 people. It was like three decades of homicides in a single day. The lab had nowhere near the kind of funding or equipment as the NYOCME. In fact, the lab in Bangladesh was unable to efficiently identify the deceased until the FBI donated some software.

However, in other ways the identification work is easier than 9/11. The World Trade Center attacks were an “open manifest mass fatality” in a dense section of Manhattan, which meant the total number of victims was unknown. The force of explosions had also “vaporized” some bodies, and fires as hot as a cremation chamber burned for days. At Rana Plaza, there were one-third the amount of victims, and casualties were clearly limited to workers inside the building. The disaster crushed and burned some bodies, but didn’t “vaporize” or cremate anyone. This means that identifying the remains of every person who lost their life in the Rana Plaza atrocity is theoretically possible.

In practice, identification has its limits. The process hinges on extracting DNA, chemically processing it and comparing it to samples from living family members. Software like CODIS quantifies matches and assists in certainty, but while DNA sometimes lasts a long time, extracting enough DNA for a conclusive match can become more difficult over time if the tissues are left exposed to harsh conditions.

In the wreckage behind Rana Plaza, what's left of workers has been dumped into a kind of landfill of garments and concrete – not ideal conditions for preserving DNA. The people looking for body parts are not scientists or government personnel, but the bereaved families of the dead.

This neglect has led to another problem: there are more people waiting for bodies than there are actual bodies. By mid-May, some 550 people had registered as family members with the DNA lab, which held samples from only 321 individuals. Now, a year after the collapse, 207 bodies have been identified. Over 100 bodies remain unidentified, but some 300 families are waiting for a lost loved one.

Mere absence was enough to constitute a death after 9/11, though some disappearances were highly ambiguous, and the identification of bone fragments was often purely to allow families some closure. In a gesture of sensitivity, the 9/11 memorial eventually even classified voice recordings of the deceased as “human remains”.

In Bangladesh, where people still gather at the old factory to weep for missing loved ones, no such respect exists. According to government policy, missing Rana Plaza workers must be identified by a DNA match before their families can receive compensation – even though there's basically only one possible answer for what happened to those workers.

This is partly because of misidentifications in the atrocity’s chaotic aftermath. Last April, hundreds of family members came to Savar. Amid their panicked searching and overwhelming grief, they identified the first recovered bodies through their phones, ID cards or clothing. To relieve overcrowding, rescuers buried unidentified bodies in Jurain cemetery (many of whom have now been identified via DNA samples rescuers obtained). About 777 bodies were also hurriedly given to loved ones, sometimes in error. Meanwhile, criminals laid claim to a few cadavers and their 20,000 taka (about $220) payouts, dumped the corpses and escaped with the money.

The fact that fraud of that kind happens here demonstrates something important about Bangladesh: the level of poverty is so crushing that some are willing to steal a stranger's corpse, just for the $220 payout. It’s crushing for the actual families of the dead, many of whom were destitute before losing a major breadwinner. The humanitarian function of DNA identification after 9/11 was to allow families emotional closure. In Bangladesh today, it would also enable families to eat.

Families now allege that the government is obscuring the true number of victims to push down compensation payouts, while a Bangladesh Garment Manufacturing and Exporters Association representative has told the press that families are “village people who are unclear about how they can properly trace [their living family members]”.

The information that could end the debate is readily available; it’s in the rubble directly behind the old factory.

In the football pitch-sized lot, concrete chunks are piled high. Scattered throughout there is a mélange of purchase orders, lunchboxes and cheap garments. While scalps, limb bones and other large bones are visible, there are likely plenty of smaller fragments hidden among the rubble. Family members may want these for identification purposes, but the larger bones are the only ones retrievable by untrained observers.

And there are many of these amateur archaeologists. Scavengers earn a living sifting through the rubble to find sellable scrap metal; sari-clad women hunt; children hammer concrete off reinforcing bars. Standing on a pile of rubble, scavenger Laila Begum thinks about coming across bones for a long while. “I’ve never seen [any],” she says.

But a local man named Khalil told me that he believes bones are there. And he’s right. This December, children collected over 100 body parts and turned them in to Savar police. According to the police chief, it was the fifth time that month.

For now, there is no word on whether those remains will be tested.

Friday 25 April 2014

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South korea ferry disaster: Confirmed death toll at 183 with 119 still missing

Latest search operations for the sunken ferry have been focused on its third- and fourth-deck cabins, where most of the missing victims are believed to be trapped.

Working during the last remaining critical hours of favorable weather conditions, Coast Guard, Navy and civilian rescue workers and divers recovered more than 20 bodies overnight.

In waters off Korea's southwestern coast where the accident happened search operations are now into a tenth day.

Not a single survivor has been found since the ferry capsized last Wednesday morning but efforts continue, with authorities having decided to use a "diving bell" at the site for the first time later this afternoon.

Divers also say there were no air pockets inside the sunken ferry reducing the chance of possible survivors after the ship submerged completely underwater.

The rescue operation continues although currents in the area are forecast to get stronger again from today.

Three more female bodies most likely Danwon High school students were recovered from early this morning -- and the death toll now well exceeds the number of survivors standing at 183 with 119 still missing.

The divers will continue their search on the third floor where the cafeteria isand on the fourth level of the ship where the cabins of most Danwon High School students were located -- focusing on the center of the deck.

Authorities will also deploy a diving bell in an hour from now - a chamber that could be used as a base and transportation of divers underwater to beef up the number of divers that can engage in search operation.

Five cranes are on stand-by, but no one assumes the lifting will take place any time soon.

But the search will continue as parents of the missing have requested the ferry not be lifted out of water until every body is recovered.

the all-out search efforts came after the exhausted and angry parents of the missing Danwon High School students made their doubts about the ongoing operation known to authorities here.

They sat down with the oceans minister and the coast guard commissioner from 5 p.m. Thursday evening questioning them for hours about whether enough was and is being done.

The parents want more diving distance lines to be installed on the fourth deck of the sunken ferry where most students are expected to be and they are demanding more civilian divers be brought into the operation.

Parents want them back in the water as they think there are not enough divers out there to recover the bodies of their children.

Several parents will also be out on the waters on the barge where divers engage in search operation.

The maritime minister and coast guard chief will stay on site to direct the operations and assist the familiesas the parents requested until the last student is brought back on shore.

Friday 25 April 2014

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