Posted: 24 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT
SEOUL: Some parents of the mostly teenage victims of South Korea's ferry disaster are pushing for autopsies that might show their children were alive inside the submerged vessel and only died because the emergency response was so slow.
The confirmed death toll yesterday stood at 171, but 131 were still missing as dive teams searched in near pitch-black conditions for bodies trapped in the ferry's interior.
More than a week after the 6,825 tonne Sewol capsized and sank with 476 people on board, most of them high school students, there is still widespread anger among the victims' families over the pace of the initial rescue effort.
It took divers working in difficult and dangerous conditions more than two days to get into the sunken ferry and two more days to retrieve the first bodies.
Many relatives believed some of the victims may have survived for several days in trapped air pockets, but perished in the cold water after no rescue came.
As a result, some have asked for autopsies to be performed to see if it would be possible to determine the precise cause and time of death.
"We have received a number of enquiries about autopsies," said a member of the forensic team on Jindo island working on identifying the bodies recovered from the disaster site.
"It seems they want some confirmation of the exact cause of death, but it's only a minority that is asking," he said.
An official responsible for legal and medical issues at the emergency situation desk on Jindo said there was nothing to prevent families from having an autopsy carried out.
"To my knowledge, nobody has so far actually brought a body to the National Forensic Service to have this done," the official said.
The belief that some passengers might have survived the initial capsize was very strong in the days immediately after the Sewol sank on April 16, fuelled in part by fake postings on social network sites claiming to be text messages from passengers begging to be rescued.
Relatives have also been distressed by reports that many of the recovered bodies had broken fingers – pointing to frantic efforts to escape the vessel as it listed and sank.
Of the 476 people on board, 325 were students from Danwon High School in Ansan city just south of Seoul.
Kim Hyong-Ki, the spokesman for a representative committee set up by the relatives, confirmed that some parents were pushing for autopsies.
"They want to know for certain how their family members died," Kim said.
"That said, most people oppose it because they can't bear the idea of the bodies being damaged any more.
"My daughter's body is still out there in the sea, but I don't want anyone dissecting it after it is recovered." - AFP
Posted: 24 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT
TOKYO: US President Barack Obama vowed to defend Japan if China attacks over a tense territorial dispute, but also urged Beijing to help stop North Korea from forging ahead with its "dangerous" nuclear programme.
Obama described as "critically important" China's role in keeping its wayward ally in check after South Korea said heightened activity at the North's main nuclear test site could point to an imminent test – its fourth.
"China's participation in pushing the DPRK (North Korea) in a different direction is critically important," the president told a joint press briefing with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"It is the most destabilising, dangerous situation in all of the Asia-Pacific region."
Despite his call for China's help, Obama also underlined US support for Japan, saying that islands at the centre of its bitter territorial dispute with Beijing are covered by a defence treaty that would oblige Washington to act if they were attacked.
"Article five (of the US-Japan security treaty) covers all territories under Japan's administration including (the) Senkaku islands," he said, referring to the East China Sea archipelago which Beijing calls the Diaoyus.
"We do not believe that they should be subject to change unilaterally, and what is a consistent part of the alliance is that the treaty covers all territories administered by Japan."
Obama added that "this is not a new position" and "there's no red line that's been drawn".
"We stand together in calling for disputes in the region, including maritime issues, to be resolved peacefully through dialogue," he said.
Relations between Tokyo and Beijing are at their lowest point for years. Some observers warn they might come to blows over the islands, where ships from both sides lurk to press claims for ownership.
Abe's position on historical issues also annoys the Chinese, who accuse him of playing down Japanese atrocities.
They are particularly upset by visits he and his cabinet ministers have paid to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours war criminals among other fallen warriors. — AFP
Posted: 24 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT
SYDNEY: Searchers for the missing Flight MH370 face tough choices on how to proceed after almost seven fruitless weeks, with only a fraction of a deep-sea zone still left to be scanned.
After 11 dives seeking wreckage from the Malaysia Airlines jet, which mysteriously disappeared on March 8, an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) has come up empty-handed.
"Bluefin-21 has now completed more than 90% of the focused underwater search area," the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) managing the search said early yesterday.
"No contacts of interest have been found to date."
Australia is leading the search for the missing Boeing 777, which is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean after veering dramatically off course from its Kuala Lumpur to Beijing route.
JACC refused to speculate on what the next steps would be if Bluefin-21 ended its 3D sonar scanning some 4,500m below the surface without results, but said the search would continue.
"We are currently consulting very closely with our international partners on the best way to effect this for the future," it said.
For now, it will not give up on the 400 sq km search zone, which has offered the best hopes so far of finding the aircraft based on seabed signals consistent with those emitted by black box data recorders.
"At the moment, we are focused on pursuing the best lead we have in relation to the missing Flight MH370," the agency said.
"It is important this lead is pursued to its completion so we can either confirm or discount the focused underwater area as the final resting place of MH370.
"This is clearly of great importance to the families of those on board."
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said that while the search would not be abandoned, it could face a "rethink". Defence Minister David Johnston has suggested a more powerful sonar scanner could be deployed.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has also reportedly suggested that the search zone could be broadened if calculations about the plane's position when it likely ran out of fuel and crashed were revised.
"The area of focus for the search... has already been moved twice, and there's always a possibility that further work will move it again," the bureau's chief commissioner Martin Dolan told CNN.
As the painstaking aerial and surface searches over the vast and remote ocean continued, the discovery on Wednesday of potential debris on a Western Australian beach was ruled out as a lead.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau said the unidentified material found on the far south coast of Western Australia was not associated with MH370.
The JACC said up to 11 military aircraft and 11 ships would assist in the search yesterday, with most concentrating on a visual search of 49,567 sq km, some 1,584km northwest of Perth.
The visual search has for days been frustrated by weather related to ex-tropical Cyclone Jack, and authorities said it could again be suspended with sea swells expected of three to four metres. — AFP
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