Friday, 24 July 2015

At least 40 migrants drown and 90 are rescued when a rickety inflatable boat capsizes off Libyan coast

As many as 40 African migrants have reportedly drowned off the Libyan coast after their overcrowded inflatable boat capsized and sank.

Another 90 migrants managed to survive the perilous journey across the Mediterranean sea and were rescued by a German naval vessel, which took them to the Sicilian harbour of Augusta.

It is believed the sunken boat had as many as 140 migrants on board. One survivor recalled how the boat started taking in water and the weak rubber began to deteriorate as the boat sunk.

The staggering number of illegal migrants who have arrived this year has now reached 60,000, according to the UN.

The rapid increase in the flow of migrants comes after 170,000 migrants arrived into Europe in 2014.

All 40 of the victims, who drowned in the sea, are believed to have come from sub-Saharan countries including Senegal, Mali and Benin. Whilst it is unclear where the migrants were hoping to end up once they were in Europe, it is thought their boat was destined for the Italian coast when it sank on Wednesday.

A team from the Save the Children charity that interviewed some of the survivors said up to seven teenagers, aged about 15 or 16, were also believed to have died in the incident.

One survivor, known as Sami, said the boat they were travelling in started to disintegrate shortly after it put to sea from the Tripoli area. 'Unfortunately the rubber was of a very bad quality,' she said, speaking by telephone from Sicily, where the survivors had come ashore after being rescued by a German navy vessel.

Save the Children said the German ship brought 283 refugees and migrants to Port Augusta. Two other boats brought a further 669 immigrants to Sicily and southern Italy during the day.

Italy has become one of the main entry points in Europe for immigrants seeking a better life, with many - mostly from Africa and the Middle East - reaching the country so far this year via the Mediterranean.

Many of the migrants travel from as far as Darfur and Afghanistan, making long road journeys in the back of lorries to reach the departure points in Turkey and Libya.

The 90 migrant fatalities comes as the United Nations estimates that some 1,900 would-be migrants have died since January trying to make the crossing.

Often the boats used are in poor condition and not fit for a long journey across the tempestuous Mediterranean sea.

Friday 24 July 2015

continue reading

Chicago’s Deadliest Day, 100 Years Ago

On July 24, 1915, nearly 900 people died when SS Eastland capsized in the Chicago River. It was a particularly astounding loss of life considering that, unlike in most deadly shipwrecks, the calamity occurred only 19 feet from shore in the middle of a metropolis. On the 100th anniversary of the SS Eastland catastrophe, look back at the deadliest disaster in Chicago history.

Even the falling drizzle couldn’t dampen the soaring spirits of the crowd who gathered on the banks of the Chicago River on July 24, 1915. Employees of the Western Electric Company, the country’s only telephone manufacturer, savored a rare Saturday off and looked forward to a day of fun with family and friends at the company’s annual summer excursion to Michigan City, Indiana. Not wanting to miss a single enjoyable moment, passengers with picnic baskets and baby carriages in tow began to board SS Eastland, the first of five vessels chartered by Western Electric, at the early hour of 6:30 a.m.

Women in long summer dresses and men in three-piece suits chuckled and joked as the slender steamship occasionally rocked from side to side during the hour-long boarding in what felt like a preview of the roller coaster and other stomach-dipping amusements that awaited them on the other side of Lake Michigan. Deep below deck, however, Eastland’s crew knew the listing was no laughing matter. “The Speed Queen of the Lakes” may have been one of the Midwest’s fleetest ships, but it was hardly the safest. The ballast system, which was designed to keep the steamer on an even keel, suffered from repeated malfunctions, and at least twice before—in 1904 and 1907—the vessel nearly capsized. “Eastland’s owners were aware of stability problems that needed to be repaired but planned to postpone them until after the sailing season ended in 1915 because of the expense,” says Michael McCarthy, author of “Ashes Under Water: The SS Eastland and the Shipwreck That Shook America.”

The required addition of lifeboats on the top deck in the wake of the 1912 sinking of Titanic and a recent 500-passenger capacity increase authorized by inspectors only compounded the steamship’s stability problems. With its three decks packed to its new 2,500-person limit, Eastland began to creep away from its berth at 7:30 a.m., but as its stern swung into the Chicago River, the ship’s listing from side to side turned violent.

“Look out, she’s tipping!” cried warehouse workers along the river. Dishes and bottles crashed to the floor. Panic along with the Chicago River gushing through gangways and portholes swept across the decks. Frightened passengers and crew jumped to the dock as the last line holding Eastland to the wharf snapped like a whip.

For those on board the steamer, the world suddenly turned sideways.

Eastland rolled onto its port side and rested partially submerged in less than 20 feet of water. “It lay like a toy boat of tin wrecked in a gutter,” reported the Chicago Tribune. The unfortunate passengers who happened to be on the port side were crushed by the hundreds of people, deck chairs and other furniture that suddenly fell on top of them. “The entire crowd of men, women and children came slipping and sliding and sprawling down with a mass of lunch boxes, milk bottles, chairs—rubbish of every sort—on top of them,” said passenger George Goyette. “They came down in a floundering, screaming mass.” As the enclosed decks filled with water and debris, the mob of humanity who tried to scale the staircase to the promenade deck, now turned sideways, turned the lone escape path into a deathtrap.

Screams mixed with gurgles as survivors struggled to stay afloat in the filthy river, a toxic cocktail of raw sewage and detritus from Chicago’s stockyards. Few passengers knew how to swim, and even those who did were weighed down by their water-logged dresses and heavy suits. Rescue boats scrambled to the scene as welders ran with torches in hand to the crippled steamer. Hearing the muffled cries of the desperate passengers pounding on the metal hull, the welders began to cut rectangular escape hatches when Eastland’s horrified captain, Harry Pedersen, incredibly protested that they were “ruining his ship.” “The captain showed more regard for the company property than the people inside,” McCarthy says.

As doctors tried to force water out of victims’ lungs with pulmotors, rescue workers hoisted lifeless bodies found by divers working in the dark holds of the ship. In all, the Eastland tragedy claimed 844 victims, including more than 50 infants. In just mere minutes, the capsizing wiped out 22 entire families.

Pedersen, the ship’s engineer and four of its owners stood trial for the disaster, but a federal judge changed the original charges from criminal negligence and manslaughter to conspiracy to operate an unsafe ship. As McCarthy notes, the owners may have been negligent, but there certainly was no conspiracy. Represented by the legendary Clarence Darrow—who was in the “valley of his career” according to McCarthy after accusations of bribing jurors on an earlier case—the six men were all found not guilty. No one was ever held criminally responsible for the disaster, and a civil trial that dragged on for more than two decades ultimately provided little money to victims’ families. “I don’t believe justice was done,” McCarthy says. “The Eastland story offers an example of how important it is to bring charges against people who have endangered lives and how careful you must be to pin the charges on them.”

Although the Eastland disaster was the deadliest in Windy City history—claiming seven times the lives as the official death toll from the Great Chicago Fire—it quickly faded from public memory. McCarthy attributes this in part to the lower economic status of the victims as well as the timing. “This happened just before the U.S. entered World War I, and the world-changing events eclipsed so much else of what was going on,” he says while adding, “It is remarkable that something so catastrophic wouldn’t be better remembered.”

Friday 24 July 2015

continue reading

Egypt boat accident death toll climbs to 31

The number of people who died after a boat collision in Cairo has risen to 31 after 13 more bodies were retrieved, the Health Ministry said on Friday.

A search operation was still ongoing at the site of the accident in Giza, part of the Greater Cairo zone, three days after the boat sank in the River Nile after a cargo ship hit it, the ministry added.

Reports meanwhile conflicted about the number of the people who were aboard the pleasure boat when the accident took place late on Wednesday.

While some witnesses said there were around 60, officials put the figure at around 35.

Egypt's health ministry said on Friday that the death toll from a collision of cargo ship and a boat on the Nile carrying people celebrating the holidays of post-Ramadan feast on Wednesday has risen to 31, after several more bodies were retrieved from the river.

The captain of the cargo ship and his assistant have been detained pending investigations. According to early investigations, the ship was not meant to travel at night.

According to AFP, the family and friends of a young couple had hired the boat to celebrate their recent engagement. However, it is unclear whether the young couple were among those killed.

Some 150m far from the coast, the front of the boat has appeared on the surface, with some of the remained ornaments and broken colored lamps, and silent music speakers that never stopped playing popular songs in very loud voice, while the backward of the boat was still sinking.

Awaiting people in lines near the coast were staring cautiously at the rescue team who appears from time to time around and near the boat sometimes with victims and many times with empty hands.

Families in queues were standing near the Nile river coast on Friday, while others are searching among the recovered bodies in hospitals for their missed relatives.

On Thursday, family members and locals staged a protest following the tragedy. Protesters cut off roads in Warraq and briefly clashed with security forces, according to Al-Ahram.

"Our family cemetery isn't wide enough for burial of our victims in one time, " Moustafa Ali said when he stood outside the morgue room of Tahrir Hospital to receive corpses of his family members.

Ali has lost seven persons of his relatives including his wife and two children in two boats collision late on Wednesday.

Ali told Xinhua that two of his family's beloved are still missing, "I had to experience the grief of burial two times: we will hold a funeral and bury five bodies, then we will attend a second funeral for other two victims when retrieved."

Egypt’s Ministry of Health, meanwhile, stated that rescue operations would continue and that the death toll is expected to rise.

Boat accidents are frequent in Egypt due to overloading and failure to comply with safety standards.

In 2006, Egypt had its worst maritime tragedy when more than 1,000 people drowned in a ferry boat sinking in the Red Sea.

Friday 24 July 2015

continue reading