Friday, 17 April 2015

USS Oklahoma remains to be exhumed, commingled DNA examined

The remains of nearly 400 unidentified American servicemen killed at Pearl Harbor will be exhumed, identified, and given individual burials, the US government has announced.

The bodies are those of US marines and navy personnel who were aboard the ship USS Oklahoma when it was sunk during the surprise Japanese strike on the naval base in 1941.

The destruction of the USS Oklahoma came quickly. On Dec. 7, 1941, it was hit with numerous torpedoes and bombs during Japan’s fierce and shocking bombardment of Pearl Harbor, capsizing within minutes with hundreds of Marines and sailors inside. Some 429 service members were killed, and others survived to fight back from the nearby USS Maryland, which also was under attack.

More than 70 years later, the USS Oklahoma remained at the center of a battle. On one side was the Navy, which last year told the families of some of those killed that it was flatly against DNA testing on the commingled remains of 330 unidentified service members. On the other side were families that wanted to know when the military would return the remains of their loved ones.

The Pentagon has now decided to exhume unidentified remains held at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu, Hawaii, do DNA testing, and return any identified remains to families that want them. Some families could decide to keep their loved ones at the national cemetery in Hawaii, but in individual plots with their own marker.

Officials will use forensic analysis and DNA testing to try and identify the bodies, which were buried in coffins marked ‘unknown’.

Advances in technology are said to have made the process of identification significantly easier despite the passage of time.

“While not all families will receive an individual identification, we will strive to provide resolution to as many families as possible,” Deputy Secretary of Defence Robert Work said in a statement.

Friday 17 April 2015

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Dozens of migrants 'missing in new Mediterranean boat tragedy'

As many as 41 migrants have drowned after another boat carrying refugees sank in the Mediterranean, Italian media reported Thursday, one day after another boat, carrying over 500 migrants, capsized in the same region.

Four survivors told Italian police and humanitarian organisations that their inflatable vessel carrying 45 people sank on the crossing from Libya.

In a separate incident, Italian police said Thursday they had arrested 15 African Muslim migrants after witnesses said they had thrown 12 Christian passengers overboard following a brawl on a boat heading to Italy.

The victims were "of Christian faith, compared to their attackers who were of Muslim faith," police said in a statement, saying the 15 people arrested were accused of "multiple aggravated murder motivated by religious hate".

Up to 400 illegal migrants died in the Wednesday disaster, said survivors.

The Italian coastguard on Monday said they had managed to rescue 144 of the people on the sunken vessel, while nine bodies were also recovered.

The International Organization for Migration and the charity Save the Children said between 144 and 150 survivors arrived at Reggio Calabria, on Italy's southern tip, on Tuesday morning.

"There were 400 victims in this shipwreck, which occurred 24 hours after (their vessel) left the Libyan coast," Save the Children said in a statement, citing survivors.

"There were several young males, probably minors, among the victims" and also children among those rescued, the international NGO said.

Friday 17 April 2015

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Relief for family members as search for MH370 continues

It was news the next-of-kin of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 had been hoping for. During a meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday (Apr 16), the Malaysian, Chinese and Australian governments decided the search for the missing flight MH370 would continue - even if nothing was found in the current search zone.

In fact, the governments said the search area would be doubled by an additional 60,000 sq km of the Southern Indian Ocean - the waters where the plane is believed to have gone down in March 2014, after being diverted off its route to Beijing.

The announcement has given family members such as Calvin Shim and Grace Nathan some comfort as many had feared the search would be called off. "I am delighted to know that the governments are extending the search," said Mr Shim, whose wife, flight attendant Christine Tan, was on the plane.

"I am also happy to know that there are plans for recovery should MH370 be found. Recovery however could mean only the black box, fuselage and I am not sure this includes bodies," Mr Shim added.

Ms Nathan, the daughter of MH370 passenger Anne Daisy, expressed relief as well. "There was a lot of apprehension and a lot of talk about the search being called off sometime before the anniversary. So this was really a big relief. I know a lot of us couldn't sleep last night, we were all really, really concerned."

The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane is now the most expensive aviation search in history. Search teams have already scoured more than 60 per cent of the current priority search zone.

But not one trace of the plane or of the 239 people onboard has been found. This has made closure difficult for their loved ones but the families say the search is important, not just for their sake.

"A much larger impact of them finding the plane is in the interest of aviation safety, so that they can produce remedial measures and prevent something like this from happening again. Because all of us are at risk till they find out exactly what happened," said Ms Nathan.

A statement by the MH370 family support group, Voice370, on Wednesday echoed the sentiment, with next-of-kin saying aviation safety was at risk as long as there are no answers as to what happened to the plane.

Friday 17 April 2015

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Identifying the dead: Why the ICRC is increasing its forensic expertise in Africa

"We don't have a lack of disasters in Africa." That was one observation made at the 4th Annual meeting of the Africa Society of Forensic Medicine, held in Nairobi, Kenya in March. That in part explains why the ICRC recently increased its forensic capacity on the continent by hiring Stephen Fonseca to be its regional forensic coordinator for Africa, based in Pretoria, South Africa, a hub of forensic expertise and training.

Stephen flew to Nairobi again in April to assist with the management of the 148 dead bodies of people killed in a terror attack at a university in the town of Garissa. Stephen and Morris Tidball-Binz, the ICRC's lead forensic expert, talk about the growing field:

Is the ICRC's decision to increase its forensic expertise in Africa an indication of a trend, that there will be a need for more forensic expertise in coming years?

Morris: First, there is growing awareness worldwide of the need to address or deal with the dead in armed conflict. The dead feature one way or another in armed conflict, which was less the case a decade or two ago. That's linked to the fact that family and other pressure groups are stakeholders in this greater awareness. So essentially there is greater expectations and demands not only from the general public but the victims' families themselves, and growing awareness of what forensics may actually provide for redress or truth.

Can you give a concrete example?

Morris: In one sector — the aviation industry — every disaster is followed by a very thorough effort to identify and recover everyone, from reasons ranging from insurance to politics. Disaster response isn't what it used to be 20 years ago when someone might have said we only identified 50 percent of the victims. That answer is absolutely unacceptable today.

Stephen, you came to Nairobi's main city morgue after the university attack in Garissa. What did you do?

My role was to offer advice on best practices in disaster management approaches and, more specifically, management of dead bodies in an emergency. These kinds of operations tend to be rather chaotic and stressful for the managers tasked with many important responsibilities and facing enormous political and public pressure to identify all the victims as quickly as possible. I worked with three other Nairobi-based ICRC colleagues to provide the mortuary management with onsite observations related to improving operations to ensure a dignified approach to the handling of the bodies and respect for bereaved families.

In what circumstances does the ICRC deal with dead bodies?

Morris: In Africa the ICRC has directly assisted in the recovery and proper and dignified management of the dead from armed conflicts, including in South Sudan, Libya and CAR. International Humanitarian Law requires that warring parties protect the dignity of the dead, prevent their despoliation and desecration and do everything possible to search, collect and document the dead and, where possible, identify them.

We also help outside of conflict zones. In the 2010 Haiti earthquake the authorities called the ICRC because they were overwhelmed, and later that year there was a big earthquake in Chile, which has a more enhanced system, they still called us to help manage the 200-some victims from that event.

Why is the field of forensics important?

Morris: For humanitarian purposes it plays a key role in all matters related to search, recovery, dignified management and where possible identification of the dead from armed conflicts and catastrophes. The importance of the dead for the families, for the communities, is beyond discussion but also enshrined under all four Geneva Conventions.

Stephen, on your side, what motivates you in the field of forensics?

When you get to work with a family who has lost someone and has been trying to find answers for years and you find that resolution for them through your participation, whatever the activity that brings the positive identification of remains you'll want to keep doing it after. There is such an incredible feeling, there is such gratitude from the family and a real sense of fulfillment. It makes you want to get on to the next case.

Friday 17 April 2015

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Bodies of Rampura house collapse victims handed over to family

Police today handed over bodies of the 12 killed in collapse of a two storey tin structure in a marshland in Rampura area of Dhaka.

“The bodies have been handed over to families this morning,” Ataur Rahman, duty officer of Fire Service and Civil Defence, told The Daily Star Online.

Rescue operations were still underway, he said, but no more bodies were found when last contacted around 11:23am.

“We will carry out the rescue under the deputy commissioner of Dhaka until he is sure that no one is trapped under the debris,” said Maj Shakil Newaz, acting director general of Fire Service and Civil Defence.

At least 12 people, including five women, were killed as the tin structure, housing around 20 families, collapsed in a marshland around 3:00pm yesterday.

Friday 17 April 2015

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