Death toll in Philippine ferry blaze rises to 31, 7 still missing

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Philippine Coast Guard respond to the fire incident onboard MV Lady Mary Joy 3 at the waters off Baluk-Baluk Island in Basilan, in the southern Philippines, on March 29, 2023. (PCG handout via Reuters)
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Philippine Coast Guard personnel search for survivors from the fire on MV Lady Mary Joy off Basilan, southern Philippines, early March 30, 2023. (AP)
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Philippine Coast Guard respond to the fire incident onboard MV Lady Mary Joy 3 at the waters off Baluk-Baluk Island in Basilan, in the southern Philippines, on March 29, 2023. (PCG handout via Reuters)
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Survivors rest after being rescued from the still burning MV Lady Mary Joy at Basilan, southern Philippines, on March 30, 2023. (Philippine Coast Guard via AP)
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Updated 31 March 2023
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Death toll in Philippine ferry blaze rises to 31, 7 still missing

  • MV Lady Mary Joy 3 enroute to Jolo island from the southern port city of Zamboanga when it caught fire midway off Basilan close to midnight, says governor
  • 18 of the 31 fatalities were discovered in a budget section of the passenger cabin, says Basilan Gov. Jim Hataman

MANILA: A fire broke out on a ferry in the southern Philippines and raged overnight for eight hours, killing at least 31 of the approximately 250 passengers and crew, officials said Thursday.
Many of the more than 200 people who survived the blaze jumped off the MV Lady Mary Joy 3 and were rescued from the dark sea by the coast guard, navy, a nearby ferry and local fishermen, said Gov. Jim Hataman of the southern island province of Basilan. Rescuers were still searching Thursday for at least seven missing people, he said.
Hataman said the burned ferry was towed to Basilan’s shoreline, where the bodies of 18 of the 31 victims were discovered in a budget section of the passenger cabin.
“These victims perished on board due to the fire,” Hataman said by telephone. He said more people may have been on the ferry who were not listed on its manifest.

The ferry’s skipper, however, told coast guard officials that he tried to run the burning ferry aground on the nearest shore to allow more people to survive or be rescued, regional coast guard commander Rejard Marfe said. The fire raged for about eight hours, he said.
The ferry was traveling to Jolo town in Sulu province from the southern port city of Zamboanga when it caught fire off Basilan close to midnight, Hataman said. At least 23 passengers were injured and taken to hospitals.
“Some of the passengers were roused from their sleep due to the commotion caused by the fire. Some jumped off the ship,” Hataman said.
The steel-hulled ferry could accommodate up to 430 people and was not overcrowded, Marfe said. According to the manifest, it was carrying 205 passengers and a 35-member crew, he said. In addition, it had a security contingent consisting of four coast guard marshals and an unspecified number of soldiers who were not listed on the manifest for their protection, Marfe said.
He said officials are investigating whether the 33-year-old ferry was seaworthy, if there were passengers not listed on the manifest, and whether the crew properly guided passengers to safety.
Sea accidents are common in the Philippines because of frequent storms, badly maintained vessels, overcrowding, and spotty enforcement of safety regulations, especially in remote provinces.
In December 1987, the ferry Dona Paz sank after colliding with a fuel tanker, killing more than 4,300 people in the world’s worst peacetime maritime disaster.
 

 


At least 58 people die after boat capsizes in Central Africa

Updated 21 April 2024
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At least 58 people die after boat capsizes in Central Africa

  • The wooden boat was overloaded with more than 300 people when it sank on the Mpoko river, say rescuers
  • Witnesses said the passengers were headed to the funeral of a village chief when the tragedy happened

BANGUI, Central African Republic: At least 58 people going to a funeral died after their overloaded river boat capsized in the Central African Republic’s capital Bangui, the head of civil protection said on Saturday.

“We were able to extract 58 lifeless bodies,” Thomas Djimasse told Radio Guira. “We don’t know the total number of people who are underwater.
According to witnesses and videos on social media, the wooden boat was carrying more than 300 people — some standing and others perched on wooden structures — when it sank on the Mpoko river on Friday.
The vessel was heading to the funeral of a village chief in Makolo, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Bangui, but got into difficulty shortly after setting off from the pier.
Rescue services arrived 40 minutes after the disaster.
The government did not respond on Saturday but in a speech recorded on Friday and broadcast a day later, government spokesman Maxime Balalou had reported a “provisional toll of at least 30 dead.”
The government sent its condolences to the bereaved families, he said, announcing the opening of an investigation and the setting up of a support system for families of the victims.
Maurice Kapenya, who was following the boat in a canoe because there was no space on board, said his own sister was among the bodies of the victims he had recovered.
He was helped by local fisherman and residents. Motorbike taxis meanwhile evacuated some of the injured.
Driver Francis Maka told AFP he had “taken more than 10 people to the community hospital... free of charge, in the face of the tragedy.”
With civil protection teams no longer on the scene Saturday, desperate families searching for missing loved ones near the river helped canoe operators they had hired, an AFP journalist observed.
Several opposition parties expressed solidarity with the families and called for national mourning.

The Central African Republic is ranked by the United Nations as the second least-developed country in the world.
A civil war has plagued the former French colony since a Muslim-dominated armed coalition called the Seleka ousted former president Francois Bozize in 2013.
The conflict lost intensity from 2018 but the country still suffers bouts of violence by rebel groups or over its resources, which include gold and diamonds.
French intervention and deployment of UN peacekeepers paved the way for elections in 2016, which President Faustin Archange Touadera won.
Two years later, Touadera brought in fighters from Russia’s Wagner mercenary group to help train his armed forces.
The country still suffers bouts of violence by rebel groups or over its resources, which include gold and diamonds.
In 2020, CAR brought in more Russian operatives as rebel groups advanced on the capital and repelled a siege of Bangui.
However, some areas of the country remain outside government control.


Russia warns of more death and destruction as US House passes Ukraine aid bill

Updated 21 April 2024
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Russia warns of more death and destruction as US House passes Ukraine aid bill

  • Aid package will make US get richer, but further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, says Putin's spokesman
  • The legislative package approved by the US House of Representatives provides $60.84 billion to Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish weapons, stocks and facilities

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday that US House of Representatives’ approval of security aid to Ukraine would lead to more damage and deaths in the conflict there.

The decision “will make the United States of America richer, further ruin Ukraine and result in the deaths of even more Ukrainians, the fault of the Kyiv regime,” Peskov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
The Kremlin has been locked in conflict in Ukraine since invading it more than two years ago.
The House approved a legislative package providing $60.84 billion to Ukraine, including $23 billion to replenish US weapons, stocks and facilities.
The package now goes to the US Senate, which passed a similar measure two months ago, for expected approval next week. It then is passed on to President Joe Biden to sign.
Peskov also said that provisions in the legislation allowing the US administration to confiscate seized Russian assets and transfer them to Ukraine to fund reconstruction would tarnish the image of the United States.
Russia, he said, would enact retaliatory measures.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, writing on the Telegram messaging app, said the approval of US aid for Ukraine was expected and grounded in “Russophobia.”
“We will, of course, be victorious regardless of the bloodsoaked $61 billion, which will mostly be swallowed up by their insatiable military industrial complex,” wrote Medvedev, one of Russia’s most vociferous hawks as deputy chairman of the Security Council.
Maria Zakharova, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said the approval of aid in the legislation to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan would “deepen crises throughout the world.”
“Military assistance to the Kyiv regime is direct sponsorship of terrorist activity,” Zakharova wrote on Telegram.
“To Taiwan, it is interference in China’s internal affairs. To Israel, it is a road straight to escalation and an unprecedented rise in tension in the region.”


Germany to send new frigate to protect ships in the Red Sea

Germany will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August. (AFP file photo)
Updated 20 April 2024
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Germany to send new frigate to protect ships in the Red Sea

  • The Houthis said on Thursday they had attacked almost 100 vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in months of strikes
  • Leading shipping industry associations appeal to UN to protect vessels after Iran seizure

BERLIN: Germany said on Saturday it will send a new frigate to the Red Sea in August to help secure maritime traffic, which has been disrupted for months due to Houthi attacks.

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said the “Hamburg” will replace the “Hessen,” which left the zone on Saturday.
The “Hessen” had been deployed in the area on Feb. 23 as part of the EU’s “Aspides” mission to protect ships.
The statement said the “Hamburg” had escorted 27 merchant ships in the intervention zone and had, on four occasions, repulsed drone and missile attacks by the Houthis.
It had around 240 military personnel on board.

BACKGROUND

Houthi attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea have been met with retaliatory strikes by US and British forces since January.

The Houthis said on Thursday they had attacked almost 100 vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in months of strikes.
They began attacking ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in November, a campaign they say is intended as a show of support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The attacks on the vital trade route have been met with retaliatory strikes by US and British forces since January.
The US set up a multinational task force late last year to “protect” Red Sea shipping.
Recent Houthi attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden have also affected the global maritime transport chain.
Merchant ships and seafarers are increasingly in peril at sea as attacks escalate in the Middle East, the industry said in a letter released on Friday. It said the UN must do more to protect supply chains.
In a letter sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the world’s leading shipping industry associations said Iran’s seizure on April 13 of the MSC Aries container ship 50 nautical miles off the UAE coast “once again highlighted the intolerable situation where shipping has become a target.”
“Innocent seafarers have been killed. Seafarers are being held hostage,” the letter said.
“The world would be outraged if four airliners were seized and held hostage with innocent souls onboard. Regrettably, there does not seem to be the same response or concern (for ships and their crew members).”
India’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that an Indian woman who was a mariner on the MSC Aries had returned to the country.
It added that it was in touch with the other 16 Indian crew members still being held aboard the vessel.
The industry letter said: “Seafarers and the maritime sector are neutral and must not be politicized.”
The letter added: “Given the continually evolving and severe threat profile within the area, we call on you for enhanced coordinated military presence, missions, and patrols in the region to protect our seafarers against any further possible aggression.”
Iran has also seized other vessels in international waters in recent years, heightening risks for merchant shipping in the area.

 


Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

Updated 20 April 2024
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Mediterranean ministers urge EU to ‘deepen’ ties to tackle migration roots

MADRID: Ministers from five Mediterranean nations have urged the EU to “deepen” bilateral agreements with migrant countries of origin and increase funding to tackle the root causes of migration.
During the Gran Canaria Island meeting, ministers of interior and migration from the MED5 nations — Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain — discussed the new migration and asylum pact adopted by the EU Parliament on April 11.
Years in the making, the deal involves a sweeping reform of the bloc’s asylum policies that will harden border procedures while forcing all 27 nations to share responsibility for migrant arrivals.

FASTFACT

The new EU pact includes building border centers to hold asylum-seekers and sending some to outside ‘safe’ countries.

The reform was spurred by the massive influx of migrants in 2015, with its provisions taking effect in 2026.
Hailing the pact as “historic,” Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said there was “still a long way to go” and that the solution lay in “prevention” and addressing the root causes of migration “at its source.”
“The key to migration management lies in bilateral cooperation,” he told a news conference, urging the European Commission “to deepen and broaden partnerships and agreements with third countries” to stem flows of irregular migrants.
“But we believe there is room for improvement, and the commitment should also focus on increasing European funds and flexible financing tools destined for such cooperation,” he said.
Under current EU rules, the arrival country bears responsibility for hosting and vetting asylum-seekers and returning those deemed inadmissible, which has put southern frontline states under huge pressure, fueling far-right opposition.
The new EU pact, which includes building border centers to hold asylum-seekers and sending some to outside “safe” countries, has been denounced by migrant charities and NGOs, with Amnesty International warning it would “lead to greater human suffering.”

 


Blinken will be the latest top US official to visit China in a bid to keep ties on an even keel

Updated 20 April 2024
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Blinken will be the latest top US official to visit China in a bid to keep ties on an even keel

  • The United States and China also are battling over trade and commerce issues, with President Joe Biden announcing new tariffs on imports of Chinese steel this past week
  • Talks between Blinken and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected, although neither side will confirm such a meeting is happening until shortly before it takes place

WASHINGTON: Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to China this coming week as Washington and Beijing try to keep ties on an even keel despite major differences on issues from the path to peace in the Middle East to the supply of synthetic opioids that have heightened fears over global stability.
The rivals are at odds on numerous fronts, including Russia’s war in Ukraine, Taiwan and the South China Sea, North Korea, Hong Kong, human rights and the detention of American citizens. The United States and China also are battling over trade and commerce issues, with President Joe Biden announcing new tariffs on imports of Chinese steel this past week.
The State Department said Saturday that Blinken, on his second visit to China in less than a year, will travel to Shanghai and Beijing starting Wednesday for three days of meetings with senior Chinese officials, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Talks between Blinken and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected, although neither side will confirm such a meeting is happening until shortly before it takes place.
The department said in a statement that Blinken would “discuss a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues,” including the Middle East, the war in Ukraine, the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait.
He will also talk about progress made in “resuming counternarcotics cooperation, military-to-military communication, artificial intelligence, and strengthening people-to-people ties” and will reaffirm how important it is for the US and China to be “responsibly managing competition, even in areas where our two countries disagree,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
The trip follows a phone call this month between Biden and Xi in which they pledged to keep high-level contacts open, something they had agreed to last year at a face-to-face summit in California. Since that call, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has visited China and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has spoken by phone with his Chinese counterpart. Meetings at lower levels also have taken place.
Despite those encounters, relations are rocky. The US has recently become more vocal in its calls for China to stop supporting Russia’s military-industrial sector, which Washington says has allowed Moscow to boost weapons production to support the war against Ukraine.
“We see China sharing machine tools, semiconductors, other dual-use items that have helped Russia rebuild the defense industrial base that sanctions and export controls had done so much to degrade,” Blinken said Friday. “Now, if China purports on the one hand to want good relations with Europe and other countries, it can’t on the other hand be fueling what is the biggest threat to European security since the end of the Cold War.”
Blinken also has pushed for China to take a more active stance in pressing Iran not to escalate tensions in the Middle East. He has spoken to his Chinese counterpart several times since the Israel-Hamas war began six months ago as he has sought China’s help in getting Iran to restrain proxy groups it has supported, armed and funded in the region.
That topic has taken on new urgency since direct back-and-forth attacks by Iran and Israel on each other’s soil in the past week.
Also high on the agenda for Blinken will be Taiwan and the South China Sea.
The US has strongly condemned Chinese military exercises threatening Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province and vowed to reunify with the mainland by force if necessary. Successive US administrations have steadily ramped up military support and sales for Taipei, much to the anger of Chinese officials.
In the South China Sea, the US and others have become increasingly concerned by provocative Chinese actions in and around disputed areas. In particular, the US has voiced objections to what it says are Chinese attempts to thwart legitimate activities by others in the waterway, notably the Philippines and Vietnam.
That was a major topic of concern earlier this month when Biden held a three-way summit with the prime minister of Japan and the president of the Philippines.