Recovering the Dead (Excerpt From ‘Escape From Myanmar’) – Vice News Published on Feb 22, 2016

The Rohingya people, a Muslim minority community, suffers from widespread persecution and discrimination in the majority Buddhist country of Myanmar. Violent sectarian clashes and rioting have destroyed villages and homes, leaving many Rohingyas with no option but to live in government-controlled camps for the internally displaced. The camps are overcrowded, and medical facilities are in short supply.

Those who flee Myanmar to seek a better life in Malaysia risk their lives making the perilous crossing over the sea. On the boats that ferry them, extortion, beatings, and starvation are commonplace. Upon arriving in Malaysia, for some, life is no better.

In this excerpt, VICE News goes to Malaysia, where a maritime authority has the grim task of recovering the bodies of drowned migrants who attempted the deadly sea journey from Myanmar.

Watch “Escape From Myanmar” –

Special Report: State Department watered down human trafficking report – WASHINGTON | BY JASON SZEP AND MATT SPETALNICK

In the weeks leading up to a critical annual U.S. report on human trafficking that publicly shames the world’s worst offenders, human rights experts at the State Department concluded that trafficking conditions hadn’t improved in Malaysia and Cuba. And in China, they found, things had grown worse.

The State Department’s senior political staff saw it differently — and they prevailed.

A Reuters examination, based on interviews with more than a dozen sources in Washington and foreign capitals, shows that the government office set up to independently grade global efforts to fight human trafficking was repeatedly overruled by senior American diplomats and pressured into inflating assessments of 14 strategically important countries in this year’s Trafficking in Persons report.

In all, analysts in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons – or J/TIP, as it’s known within the U.S. government — disagreed with U.S. diplomatic bureaus on ratings for 17 countries, the sources said.

The analysts, who are specialists in assessing efforts to combat modern slavery – such as the illegal trade in humans for forced labor or prostitution – won only three of those disputes, the worst ratio in the 15-year history of the unit, according to the sources.

As a result, not only Malaysia, Cuba and China, but countries such as India, Uzbekistan and Mexico, wound up with better grades than the State Department’s human-rights experts wanted to give them, the sources said. (Graphic looking at some of the key decisions here:

Of the three disputes J/TIP won, the most prominent was Thailand, which has faced scrutiny over forced labor at sea and the trafficking of Rohingya Muslims through its southern jungles. Diplomats had sought to upgrade it to so-called “Tier 2 Watch List” status. It remains on “Tier 3” – the rating for countries with the worst human-trafficking records.

The number of rejected recommendations suggests a degree of intervention not previously known by diplomats in a report that can lead to sanctions and is the basis for many countries’ anti-trafficking policies. This year, local embassies and other constituencies within the department were able to block some of the toughest grades.



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Australia spots objects possibly tied to Malaysia jet – By Simon Denyer and Chico Harlan, Published: March 19 | Updated: Thursday, March 20, 4:33 AM

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Australia’s prime minister said Thursday that two objects that may be pieces of a missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet have been spotted in the southern Indian Ocean.

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at Mar 20, 2014 5.10

Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the Australian Parliament in Canberra that “new and credible information has come to light” on the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, with images of two objects gleaned from satellite imagery.

The images released Thursday showed grainy whitish fragments in the black-blue ocean. They were taken by a commercial satelite, according to Australian authorities, and date-stamped March 16.

Malaysia’s Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the images had needed to be assessed by experts, while Australian Air Commodore John McGarry said further information was being continuously collected as other satellites passed over the area.

“The task of locating these objects will be extremely difficult and it may turn out they are not related to the search for MH370,” Abbott cautioned.

Australia’s maritime security agency said one Australian and one American surveillance plane had already arrived in the area where the objects were spotted, with two more planes expected to reach the area later. However, poor visibility was hampering the air and satellite effort and nothing had been spotted by the planes by early evening.

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Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 search expands amid focus on criminal act – By Joel Achenbach, Chico Harlan and Ashley Halsey III, Published: March 15

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at Mar 16, 2014 3.34

It was a good night for flying, with benign weather all the way to Beijing. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the red-eye from Kuala Lumpur, climbed for 20 minutes and leveled out at 35,000 feet, cruising at 472 knots over open water.

“All right, good night,” the pilot said to air traffic controllers behind him in Malaysia. He was supposed to say hello soon to the controllers ahead of him in Vietnam.

The handoff never happened. Flight MH370, with 239 people aboard, went silent. The transponder — the radar beacon that identifies a plane and its location — stopped transmitting. So did another communication system that sends engine data to computers on land via satellite. To the extent such a thing is possible, the Boeing 777 became a ghost plane, a modern-day Flying Dutchman.

More than a week later, what happened inside that plane around 1:21 a.m. local time on March 8 remains unknown — but investigators now believe it was not an accident.

Satellite information indicates that the plane flew for another seven hours, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday, and he said the movements of the plane as tracked by military radar were “consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane.” He said there is renewed focus on the people onboard, including the cockpit crew.

If the plane stayed airborne for seven hours, that would suggest that it flew until it ran out of fuel, or close to the limit of its range. That’s about how long a plane with fuel for a six-hour flight to Beijing can fly.

No longer is the search focused on the waters between Malaysia and Vietnam. A multinational fleet of ships and planes is scouring vast stretches of the Indian Ocean and much of mainland Asia. In a typical aviation disaster the search narrows with time, but this one has expanded to cover immense areas of the world’s third-largest ocean and its largest continent.

By the prime minister’s count, 14 countries, 43 ships and 58 aircraft are looking for the plane. Many of the countries that have joined forces have been at each others’ throats in recent years in territorial disputes over the South China Sea.

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Is There A Better Way To Track Aircraft During Flight? – by KRISHNADEV CALAMUR March 11, 2014 4:23 PM

Adm. Mohd Amdan Kurish of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency Admiral, left, checks radar during a search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane off Tok Bali Beach in Kelantan, Malaysia, on Sunday.i

Adm. Mohd Amdan Kurish of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency Admiral, left, checks radar during a search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane off Tok Bali Beach in Kelantan, Malaysia, on Sunday.

Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency/AP

In a story yesterday [Monday] about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, David Ison, assistant professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, had this to say:

“In this day and age, having no ability to pinpoint these aircraft is really not acceptable. We have technology to make it happen. We really need to do something … so we can prevent the loss of aircraft.”

That got us thinking about how planes are tracked and if there are better ways to do it.

Tracking Planes Today

Air traffic controllers track aircraft using radar. That technology is fine when the plane is flying over land, but its limitations are exposed when the aircraft gets over water.

Additionally, radar can’t spot aircraft that are flying below a certain altitude because of the Earth’s curvature.

The head of Malaysia’s air force said Tuesday that when military radar last saw Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, it was at least 200 miles off course. Reuters notes that if that’s true, “it would mean the plane was able to maintain a cruising altitude and flew for about 500 kilometers (310 miles) with its transponder and other tracking systems apparently switched off.”

And, The Guardian reports that the plane was equipped with ACARS, or the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, which would automatically alert engineers at base of any mechanical failure. It’s unclear if any such message was received.


Todd Curtis, an aviation safety analyst who now runs the Foundation, tells us that the transponder is the device on the airplane that emits a radio signal with information about the aircraft such as identification, air speed and altitude. It does this when it receives an interrogation or request signal from an air traffic control radar.

Investigators say that in the case of Flight 370, the transponder disappeared suddenly. This could happen if there’s a sudden loss of power or if it was switched off intentionally.


GPS is so prevalent in our lives that we can use it on our phones to give us directions or map our running routes and track distances. Airplanes have GPS, too, but they don’t work the way we’d expect them to.

“Airlines do use GPS systems for navigation, but GPS signals are not used in the transmission from the emergency locator transmitters, or from the acoustic locator device (which activates when the device is submerged in water) that’s carried by the black boxes,” Curtis said.

In other words, an aircraft uses GPS to track itself, but doesn’t share that information with air traffic control.

Ison told us today:

“We don’t know the plane’s position because we rely on radar for that information. If the plane isn’t in view of the radar, it’s position can’t be detected. It’s unclear how good the radar coverage was in that area although now they are saying the plane did turn and deviated from its assigned altitude.”

GPS is one of several systems with which large aircraft track their positions. And if for some reason it fails – it’s susceptible, Ison says, to jamming or spoofing – then the plane’s inertial navigation system takes over. This system, which uses very sensitive sensors to detect the plane’s position based on its last-known position, is considered to be very accurate.

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Mistaken Identities And Stolen Passports Aboard Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight – Barbie Latza Nadeau 03.08.14

Photo by © Kim Kyung Hoon / Reuters

An Italian and an Austrian were listed among the missing passengers of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370—but both are alive, and the victims of a curious identity theft by imposters who bought their tickets for the missing flight together.
Thirty-seven-year-old Luigi Maraldi of Cesena, Italy, was as surprised as anyone to read that he was among the missing passengers on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished from radar about a third of the way through a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing during the early hours of Saturday morning.  His Italian passport number had been stolen in Thailand several months ago, and he had reported it to the Italian authorities, who issued him a replacement.  Maraldi, who was back in Thailand on a working holiday when he saw his name on news reports, immediately called his father, Walter, in Italy. Walter had not yet registered that his son was listed among the potential crash victims.

“Ciao, dad,” the younger Maraldi said, according to Italian press reports. “Have you heard the news about the missing airplane? Don’t worry, it wasn’t me who was listed as a passenger on board. I don’t know why my name is on the list, or what happened, but I’m ok. I’m in Thailand.”

Italy’s foreign ministry confirmed the case of mistaken identity. “We’ve spoken to Maraldi and he is alive and well,” a foreign ministry spokesperson tweeted.

The use of Maraldi’s stolen passport, and the stolen passport of another European have called into question whether foul play was involved in the apparent air disaster.

The use of Maraldi’s stolen passport, and the stolen passport of another European—Austrian national Christian Kozel, who was also erroneously listed as a missing passenger—have called into question whether foul play was involved in the apparent air disaster. The use of Maraldi’s stolen passport, and the stolen passport of another European—Austrian national Christian Kozel, who was also erroneously listed as a missing passenger—have called into question whether foul play was involved in the apparent air disaster. Revelations early Sunday morning that the two imposters bought their tickets together based on the sequential issue numbers and date and place of purchase have bolstered the theory, though until the aircraft is found, it is impossible to know exactly why the plane went down. The two passport thieves could have realistically been involved in some other criminal activity that had nothing to do with the ill-fated flight. Investigators will have to first find the plane and then try to identify who the passport thieves really are.

According to Malaysian newspaper Malay Mail, Malaysia’s deputy transport minister Datuk Aziz Kaprawi told reporters that they were taking the news of the passport thefts seriously. “The matter is still under review,” he said.

The Boeing 777, with 239 passengers and crew on board, including four Americans (one of them reportedly an infant), disappeared from the radar two hours after take-off. No distress call was made, and weather was apparently not problematic in the area. Two 12-mile long oil slicks were spotted in the Gulf of Thailand, but so far no other possible trace of the aircraft has been found.

Malaysia Airlines Jet Carrying 239 Missing Near Vietnam [Updated] – By Caroline Bankoff

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 — a Beijing-bound Boeing 777-200 carrying 239 people — disappeared after losing contact with air-traffic controllers at 2:40 a.m. local time on Saturday. The plane, which was coming from Kuala Lumpur, still has not been located. However, a twelve-mile-long oil slick has been located on the surface of the water in the Gulf of Thailand, off the coast of Vietnam.

“An AN26 aircraft of the Vietnam Navy has discovered an oil slick about 20 kilometers in the search area, which is suspected of being a crashed Boeing aircraft,” said Lai Xuan Thanh, the director of Vietnam’s Civil Aviation Administration, at a Saturday press conference, according to the New York Times.Pham Quy Tieu, Vietnam’s vice minister of transportation, told Reuters that “two maritime boats and some military boats” sent “to clarify” should reach the sitewithin the next several hours.

According to Malaysia Airlines, Flight MH370 was carrying passengers and crew from over a dozen countries, including 153 from China, 38 from Malaysia, 7 from Indonesia, 6 from Australia, 5 from India, 4 from France, 3 from the United States, 2 from New Zealand, 2 from Ukraine, 2 from Canada, and 1 each from Russia, Italy, the Netherlands, and Austria. Two infants were aboard the plane, which was flying in good weather conditions at 35,000 feet when it vanished from Flight Aware’s tracking map. It did not send out any distress signals before going missing.

It also seems that two people on the flight may have been traveling with stolen passports, raising the possibility that the crash was an act of terrorism. A 37-year-old Italian man, Luigi Maraldi, whose name was listed on the flight’s manifest, told reporters that he was currently safe in Bangkok, and that his passport was stolen in Thailand last August. A 30-year-old Austrian man whose name was also on the manifest, Christian Kozel, had a similar story: His passport was also taken in Thailand.

An American intelligence official told the New York Times that the stolen passports were “interesting,” but added, “At this time, we have not identified this as an act of terrorism.” However, he said that investigators were looking into the matter “very aggressively.” Meanwhile, an anonymous European counterterrorism official told the paper that it was “surprising” that someone was able to check into the Kuala Lumpur airport with stolen passports. “I think this should be checked thoroughly,” he said. “Maybe they were careless — or somebody helped them.”

This post has been updated throughout.