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Australia resumes hunt for refugee boat victims, toll rises

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2010 at 9:41 am

SYDNEY (AFP) – Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Thursday warned further bodies would be recovered after a boat carrying asylum seekers hit rocks and was shattered by huge waves, killing at least 28 people.

The wooden craft, believed to be crowded with up to 100 Iraqi and Iranian asylum seekers and their children, hit rocks at Christmas Island Wednesday and was shattered by huge waves as traumatised residents looked on helplessly.

Residents and police (R) try to rescue refugees from an asylum boat (C) being smashed by violent seas against the jagged coastline of Australia’s Christmas Island on December 15, 2010. AFP

“We do not know with any certainty how many people there were on the boat, Gillard told reporters.

“We have got to prepare ourselves for the likelihood that more bodies will be found and there will be further loss of life than we know now.”

Customs officials told AFP the search for survivors and the dead resumed at first light on the west coast. They could not confirm how long the rescue operation would last.

Australian Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the death toll from the disaster had risen to 28 — from 27 late Wednesday — while 44 people had been saved with the help of navy personnel and Christmas Island residents.

“The latest report that I have is that we have 44 people rescued and 28 deceased,” he said.

But he warned that survivors had reported that 70-100 people were on board the rickety boat, which witnesses said was thought to be carrying few life jackets. The Flying Doctors have said up to 50 were believed dead.

“I don’t like to speculate on any particular outcome, but obviously the rescuers will be doing their best… to salvage and rescue persons still in the water or to get any bodies they’re able to get out of the water,” Bowen said.

But he also hinted that the chances of finding survivors in “particularly treacherous” seas churned up by an approaching monsoonal storm were dwindling, adding that the exact number of dead would “probably never” be known.

He declined to comment on how the boat managed to get so close to the remote island — closely watched as the main people-smuggling route from Indonesia — without being intercepted by border police.

“I?m not in the position to comment on that one way or another,” Bowen said. “There?ll be an appropriate time for investigation and for further information to be released on that.”

At least 5,000 asylum seekers from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have made their way to Australia this year, often on leaky boats from Indonesia.

Lawyers and refugee advocates including Amnesty and the UNHCR said the tragedy highlighted the desperate plight of refugees and urged greater cooperation between nations for more humane solutions.

Shocked survivors of the wreck, including 11 children, huddled in a hospital and a reception centre on Christmas Island, where a makeshift morgue was also set up. Local residents were reeling from the horror of what they witnessed.

Two seriously injured women were flown to hospital in Perth, one with abdominal injuries and the other suffering from respiratory problems from inhaling sea water and diesel, medics from the Flying Doctors said.

Many of the injured were treated by medical services on Christmas Island, home to Australia’s main immigration detention centre for boat people.

Traumatised island residents told how they had watched from the cliffs as the tragedy unfolded.

“There were children in the water. There was one very small child in a life jacket floating face down for a very long time… clearly dead,” said local shop owner Simon Prince.

“It’s something I’m not going to forget very quickly,” he told AFP.

Woken near dawn by the screams of victims, locals gathered life jackets and rushed to the sheer limestone cliffs to offer help, but strong winds blew the flotation devices back onshore.

The terrified group drifted for about an hour after losing engine power and only one man managed an “incredible leap” to safety before the surging waves smashed the rickety vessel apart on the rocks, Prince said.

People were crushed against jagged limestone as navy rescuers battled towering swells to reach them in inflatable dinghies, while locals made a human chain and tried to cast ropes and life preservers down.

Flying Doctors transported patients from the island, which lies 2,650 kilometres (1,650 miles) northwest of Perth.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who has cancelled her Christmas holiday to deal with the tragedy, was set to give a briefing alongside her immigration minister later Thursday.

Five Afghan refugees perished last year when their boat exploded off Ashmore Reef, near Christmas Island, injuring 30 others.

Source: SGGP

Rescuers in desperate hunt for survivors of China mudslides

In Uncategorized on August 9, 2010 at 7:24 am

WENXIAN, China, Aug 9, 2010 (AFP) – Soldiers and rescuers battled Monday through an avalanche of sludge and debris as they raced to find survivors of mudslides that killed at least 127 people and left 1,300 missing in northwest China.

At least one village was entirely engulfed by a torrent of mud and rocks triggered by heavy rains in a remote area of Gansu province — the latest deadly disaster in a summer that has seen China’s worst flooding in a decade.

Rescuers carry a survivor who was found in debris after a deadly flood-triggered landslide hit Zhouqu, in northwest China’s Gansu province on August 8, 2010. AFP

Premier Wen Jiabao, who arrived in the devastated area on Sunday, urged the thousands of rescue workers at the scene to hasten efforts to locate survivors and provide relief to about 45,000 people who have been evacuated.

“For those buried under the debris, now it’s the most crucial time to save their lives,” Wen was quoted by the state Xinhua news agency as saying late Sunday, saying efforts would continue as long as hope of survival existed.

Authorities have sent more than 4,500 soldiers, police, firefighters and medics to help in search and rescue efforts after the landslides in the ethnically Tibetan region, triggered by a deluge of rain late Saturday.

The task in hardest-hit Zhouqu county would not be an easy one. Streets were covered with mud as thick as two metres (yards) in some spots. Cars and homes were buried in the onslaught of debris. Roads and bridges were destroyed.

“Many people were trapped. Now sludge has become the biggest problem for rescue operations. It’s too thick to walk or drive through,” said county head Diemujiangteng.

The landslides swept mud, houses, cars and other debris into a river running through Zhouqu, blocking the waterway and triggering flooding in the valley, the government said. At one point, half the county was submerged.

Wen inspected the devastation in the worst-hit Sanyan valley, where a village of at least 300 houses was submerged by the mudslide, and many residents were still without power, clean drinking water or phone lines.

The mudslides levelled an area five kilometres (three miles) long and 500 metres wide, Xinhua said, with floodwaters reaching as high as three storeys at one point.

“That night, I went to the door to check what had happened after I heard a strong wind and unusual rumbling,” He Xinchao, a 44-year-old man who was rescued with his three-year-old son on Sunday, told the China Daily.

“As soon as I opened the door, mud squeezed in,” said He, who clung to a pole overnight to survive. “For the entire night, water and mud kept rising, covering my chest and edging up to my neck.”

Nine members of He’s family were still missing, he said.

Soldiers and rescuers have been forced to use shovels and even their bare hands to clear the mud, as no heavy equipment was in place in Gannan prefecture, and would have been useless anyway given the thickness of the mud.

Some people awaited rescue on their rooftops. Others walked through the streets carrying their dead loved ones on wooden boards, covered in bed sheets, the China Daily reported.

A total of 1,294 people were missing as of Sunday night, down from an earlier estimate of 2,000, Xinhua said, quoting the rescue headquarters in Zhouqu. Reports said more than 680 people had been rescued.

“It’s very hard to locate the people washed away by floods. It’s hard to say what their chances of survival are,” said He Youxin, whose rescue team had so far saved 23 people and recovered 15 bodies.

Reports said 88 people had also been injured.

Torrential downpours had stopped, reports said, but the local weather bureau has forecast more rain in the coming days.

Authorities have sent electricity generators, tents, instant noodles and bottled water to the region, about one third of whose residents are ethnic Tibetans.

Troops used explosives on Monday to blast away the mud and debris blocking the Bailong River, Xinhua said.

The region was among the worst hit by the massive earthquake in neighbouring Sichuan province in 2008.

According to government figures issued before the latest disaster, the number of people killed or missing in floods across China this year has risen to more than 2,100.

China’s civil affairs ministry said Friday more than 12 million had been evacuated from their homes, with 1.4 million homes destroyed. The floods have caused 275 billion yuan (41 billion dollars) in direct economic losses so far.

In China’s northeast, entire towns have been flooded and rivers bordering North Korea swollen to critical levels.

North Korean state media said floods in the impoverished nation had washed away homes, roads, railways and farmland, but gave no casualty figures.

Source: SGGP

Investigators hunt black box from Indian jet crash

In Uncategorized on May 25, 2010 at 5:17 am

Canada’s seal hunt to close early after low harvest

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2010 at 1:41 pm

OTTAWA (AFP) – A lack of sea ice in one of the warmest Canadian winters on record and a European boycott have ruined what was to be a banner seal hunt off Canada’s Atlantic coast this month, according to officials and sealers.

Canada’s Fisheries Minister Gail Shea last month increased by 50,000 the allowable catch of harp seals this season to 330,000, in defiance of a ban on seal products by the European Union.

File picture shows a Harp seal pup on an ice floe in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. AFP file

But most of Canada’s 6,000 sealers stayed home, unable to find buyers for their catch or stymied by a lack of ice floes for the first time in 60 years on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, which usually host hordes of seals birthing pups.

“The European boycott was devastating to the industry this year, as was the lack of ice on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence due to an exceptionally warm winter,” Jean Richard, Canadian fisheries department conservation chief for the Quebec coastal region, told AFP.

“The hunt, as a result of reduced market demand, has been scaled back substantially,” added Larry Yetman, fisheries resource management officer for the Newfoundland and Labrador coastal region.

Fewer than 50 sealing ships launched from Newfoundland ports, down from 500 in past years. Others would have eagerly set out to reap this year’s higher pelt prices — at 21 dollars, nearly double last year’s prices.

But there was now only one local buyer, NuTan Furs, which said upfront it would buy less than 15,000 pelts from a dedicated group of sealers this year.

“Every sealer in Newfoundland would have considered going out on the ice for that price, but there aren’t any buyers,” Yetman said.

He lamented that sealing conditions were otherwise ripe for a bountiful harvest along the Labrador coast: “The ice is close to shore, not heavy, and easily penetrated by sealing vessels.”

“Unfortunately, we expect market demand to be satisfied in a couple of days, and then we would talk about closing the hunt,” likely after less than 15 percent of the quota has been reached, he said.

To the south, a solitary ship set off with 10 crew onboard last week from the Magdalen Islands, where former Beatle Paul McCartney led a seal hunt protest in 2006, in search of prey for Quebec eateries.

The rest of the island’s fleet remained docked, each ship too small to venture far beyond the Saint Lawrence seaway.

Denis Longuepee, president of the Magdalen Islands seal hunters association, said the steel-hulled 65-foot vessel Jean-Mathieu had already returned from Labrador coastal waters after nine days, with 2,200 seal carcasses.

Rejean Vigneau, a sealer and owner of a Magdalen Island butcher shop that specializes in seal meat, said their harvest was disappointing — half of what he had hoped for.

“Normally, we never go hunting for seal meat,” he commented. “We hunt for pelts and also bring back the meat. But there’s no market for seal pelts this year.”

Except for NuTan, all of Canada’s seasonal seal processing companies have been shuttered, forcing the Jean-Mathieu crew to “throw pelts back in the water.”

“It’s a disaster, really unthinkable,” Vigneau said. “It’s the first time ever that this has happened.”

Longuepee told AFP that there remained “a lot of demand for seal meat” as a delicacy, triple what it was last year and growing, but fisheries officials insist the market for the meat is still relatively small.

To try to boost demand, Canada’s Fur Institute is expected to soon launch a seal cookbook originally published by the European Union, ironically three years before EU states voted in 2009 to ban the marketing of seal products from 2010 onwards.

In Ottawa, efforts are now underway to try to open up new markets for seal pelts in Asia while the EU ban — called for by animal rights groups — is being challenged at the World Trade Organization.

Source: SGGP

Fiorentina in hunt for Catania’s Morimoto: report

In Vietnam Sports on December 15, 2009 at 2:31 am

TOKYO, Dec 14, 2009 (AFP) – Serie A side Fiorentina have joined Manchester United in expressing interest in signing Catania’s Japanese striker Takayuki Morimoto, a report said Monday.

“Fiorentina highly rate Morimoto’s ability,” the Sports Nippon daily reported, citing an informed source.

Fiorentina’s Italian forward Alberto Gilardino (C up) celebrates after scoring the second goal during their UEFA Champions League group E football match against Liverpool at Anfield, Liverpool, north-west, England, on December 9, 2009. AFP PHOTO

Morimoto moved to Sicilian side Catania in August 2006 after two years with J-League team Tokyo Verdy. He has scored 12 goals in 56 Serie A games.

The crew-cut 180-centimetre (six-foot) forward earned his debut cap in Japan’s 2-0 win over Scotland and scored his first international goal in a 5-0 drubbing of Togo, both in October.

Morimoto said earlier this month he was flattered by the reported interest from Manchester United, but told Britain’s News of the World there had been no contact between the English giants and his agent.

“Nevertheless, the transfer market does not interest me now but only Catania staying up,” he was quoted as saying by the tabloid weekly. The team are rooted to the bottom of the league with just one win in 16 games.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share

Cadaver hunt in Philippines massacre ends: police

In World on November 28, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Police have ended a grisly search for corpses and mass graves from an election-linked massacre in the southern Philippines, with the known death toll standing at 57, officials said Saturday.

The authorities dismissed several news reports that quoted a police official saying he had counted 64 bodies from the slaughter just off a farming road in the province of Maguindanao on Mindanao island.

“We ended the search yesterday,” Senior Superintendent Bienvenido Latag, the police chief of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, told reporters by telephone.

“We have 57 bodies in our official list. Of course we are still checking and if there are reports of more bodies we will verify those. But so far, the information that we have is that the total has not changed.”

A general view of the shallow grave where the bodies of victims of massacre were found in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province.

Chief Superintendent Josefino Cataluna, the police chief of central Mindanao, also confirmed the toll.

The last 11 were pulled out from two adjacent mass graves on Wednesday, including five who were entombed along with three vehicles, police said.

The government has charged a local official in the area, Andal Ampatuan Jnr, with ordering and taking part in the killings. He surrendered to police Thursday and has been flown to Manila where he was detained.

On Friday Ampatuan Jnr was indicted of ordering his private militia of more than 100 gunmen to open fire on the group, which included relatives of rival Muslim politician, Esmael Mangudadatu, some journalists and passing motorists who had no known quarrel with the gunmen.

Ampatuan Jnr is a mayor in the southern Philippines who until this week was an ally of President Gloria Arroyo and a member of her ruling coalition.

Eight other members of the powerful Ampatuan clan have been invited for police questioning after witnesses also linked them to the killings.

The relatives and the journalists had been travelling to an election office to nominate Mangudadatu to run against Ampatuan Jnr for the post of provincial governor in next year’s elections.

Source: SGGP Bookmark & Share