Khamis, 17 April 2014

The Star Online: Metro: South & East

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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

'Shouldn't we move?' Ferry evacuation under scrutiny

Posted: 16 Apr 2014 10:33 PM PDT

SEOUL: National shock at a ferry disaster that may have claimed the lives of hundreds of South Korean schoolchildren was mixed with fury Thursday at growing evidence that many passengers were denied a proper chance to escape the sinking vessel.

Multiple survivor testimony highlighted the fact that passengers were repeatedly told to stay in their seats or cabins when the ferry first ran into trouble on Wednesday morning.

Those who obeyed found their possible escape route severely compromised after the vessel suddenly listed sharply to the port side, triggering total panic.

One survivor named Kim Sung-Mook said he had struggled to rescue around 30 high school students unable to escape from a large, open hall on the fourth level of the ship.

"I couldn't even get into the hall because the whole thing was leaning over so badly," Kim said.

"The ship was going underwater and there was nothing for them to hold on to with their hands. They couldn't crawl up the floor, because it was wet and at such a sharp angle," he said.

Using a fire hose he managed to pull a few to safety, "but there were so many of them ... I couldn't help them all."

One student who was rescued said most passengers had remained in their seat for "30 to 40 minutes" after the ferry first foundered, in line with instructions they received from crew members and over the internal tannoy system.

"The message was repeated again and again: 'Stay put. Don't move'," said another survivor Huh Young-Ki.

"We we're asking ourselves: 'Shouldn't we move? Shouldn't we try and get out?' But the announcement was saying help would be there in 10 minutes," Huh told the News Y television channel. 

'Most stayed put as they were told'

Discipline is strict in the South Korean education system and authority rarely flouted, leaving observers to conclude that most of the 375 high school students on the ferry, in their late teens, would have probably obeyed any official commands without question.

"If only we had been told to get out earlier, then more of us would have been able to jump into the sea," one student who managed to escape told the MBC TV channel.

"But most people just stayed put as they were told," she added.

Once the 6,825-tonne vessel Sewol had begun to list, it soon ended up at a 90 degree angle to the water, before inverting completely and sinking with only a small section of the keel showing above water.

With only 179 rescued so far, the fear is that most of the 287 still unaccounted for were trapped inside the ship as it submerged.

The suggestion that many more should have been able to escape has added to the anguish of the relatives of the missing, and fuelled public anger in a country unused to a disaster of this scale, especially involving its efficient, modern transport infrastructure.

Most South Koreans believe they have left the sort of accidents that regularly blight developing countries behind.

With the exception of a subway station fire in 2003 that claimed 192 lives, there have been no large-scale disasters in the past nearly two decades.

A Seoul department store collapsed in 1995, killing more than 500 people, while nearly 300 people died when a ferry capsized off the west coast in 1993. 

'One man was screaming for help'

The captain of the Sewol, Lee Joon-Seok, was among those who escaped the ferry before it sank and was being questioned by investigators on Thursday.

Surrounded by TV cameras and reporters as he waited in the coastguard's southern headquarters in Mokpo, Lee pulled a hood over his head and face, and mumbled incoherently in response to persistent questions to explain what happened.

One 61-year-old woman escaped after ignoring the advice to stay in her cabin which she said was still being relayed as it filled with water.

"I swam for a while and then managed to crawl to an upper deck and then to a window where other people were clinging on," she told reporters in a hospital where she was recovering.

"One man was slamming on the window screaming for help, and then a rescue boat came up and they smashed the window in and pulled us out," she said.

Jin Kyo-Joong, the former chief of the South Korean Navy's ship salvage unit, said there were emergency situations where keeping passengers from moving was crucial.

"But if the ship is listing so dramatically to the point where people can't even move around, then ordering them to stay put is obviously the wrong order," Jin told the YTN television channel. -AFP

More dead pigs found in China river

Posted: 16 Apr 2014 09:20 PM PDT

BEIJING, April 17, 2014 (AFP) - At least 170 dead pigs have been found in a Chinese river, state media reported Thursday - the latest in a string of similar incidents that have raised fears over food safety.

The animals were found floating in a tributary of China's second-longest waterway, the Yellow River, in northwestern Qinghai province, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The grim discovery follows a series of scandals involving dead pigs in Chinese rivers. Last year 16,000 carcasses were found drifting through the main waterway of the commercial hub of Shanghai.

In Qinghai - the furthest west such an incident has been reported - "the source of the dead pigs is still under investigation," Xinhua said, citing local authorities.

Industry analysts say sick pigs are sometimes dumped in rivers by farmers hoping to avoid paying the costs of disposing of the animals by other means.

Around 500 dead pigs are recovered every month from a Chinese reservoir in the southwestern province of Sichuan, state-run media reported in March.

Authorities also found 157 dead pigs last month in a river in central Jiangxi province.

China is a major producer of pork, which surveys have found to be the country's most popular meat.

Mental health problems plague Indonesian election hopefuls

Posted: 16 Apr 2014 08:50 PM PDT

JAKARTA, April 17, 2014 (AFP) - His body shaking violently, Sofyan screamed loudly as a traditional healer sought to calm the Indonesian election candidate, one of a growing number seeking treatment for mental health problems after polls last week.

"Don't take my votes away. I have spent so much money," he shouted, as the healer chanted softly and poured water mixed with flowers over his body.

Many of the approximately 230,000 candidates running for seats in local and national legislatures across the world's biggest archipelago nation invested huge amounts of their own money to fund campaigns, but some are now paying an even greater price.

Some become stressed or depressed at the prospect of losing everything while others appear to have suffered more severely, such as one who reportedly went stealing his neighbours' sandals before taking refuge up a coconut tree.

Thousands of candidates were treated for stress-related illnesses following the 2009 legislative elections, and reports in recent days suggest that the situation will be the same following the April 9 vote.

While many of those who fall ill are the losers, that is not always the case as the stress and cost of running campaigns can be enormous, whatever the final outcome.

"They have lost their money, land, houses, and one candidate even lost his wife to another man because he was too busy campaigning," said Muhammad Muzakkin, from a traditional healing centre on main Java island, who has treated 51 candidates for stress in the past week.

Many are willing to take the risk however as the rewards from gaining office in Indonesia can be huge - a businessman will find it is easier for his company to win contracts if he is also a politician, and there is ample opportunity to get rich by accepting bribes in a country with a notoriously corrupt political culture.

The lack of campaign funding from parties means that people seeking to run for office in Indonesia generally have to provide money, a huge undertaking that many underestimate before launching their political careers.

Sofyan, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, sold two motorcycles and took out loans to raise more than 300 million rupiah ($26,000) to fund his campaign for a local parliament seat in Cirebon district, in West Java province.

Results due next month

This covered the cost of materials such as posters and also cash handouts for voters - something that is common in Indonesia although it is officially illegal.

Official results are not released until May but his political team believes he may be on course to win the seat for the Democratic Party of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Nevertheless, he is worried something will go wrong and the prospect that such a huge sum of money could have gone to waste has sent him tumbling into an abyss of depression.

"I don't know what to do if I lose," he said.

Other candidates lose their tempers when they believe they have lost, with some storming polling stations and making off with ballot boxes while one angrily demanded the return of donations he had made to a local mosque.

Psychiatric units at hospitals have said they are ready to treat depressed candidates but many seek help from traditional healers in a country where indigenous beliefs remain strong.

Muzakkin from the clinic on Java said that healers there were using prayers to "shoo away the genies" plaguing depressed candidates, many of whom are at a very low ebb when they arrive.

"One man threw a tantrum and stripped himself naked so he had to be put in an isolation room," he said.

The problem has started to concern the government to such a degree that it wants to amend legislation so that candidates are required to undergo a mental health check before they can run in elections.

Eka Viora, the health ministry's director of mental health, said that the elections could be a "disaster" for candidates, particularly those who lose.

"They lose not only their assets and jobs but also their dignity," she told AFP.

However political analyst Dodi Ambardi cautioned that it was also the responsibility of the individual candidate to assess whether they were up to it.

"It's a risky gamble. If they are clearly not up to the task, they really should not be overconfident and bother to run in the first place."


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