23 missing Chinese in Malaysia boat sinking found alive: minister

Chen Peijie (2nd L), China's consul-general in Sabah, checks her mobile phone at a jetty in Kota Kinabalu in the Malaysian Borneo state of Sabah on Sunday as she awaits developments after a tourist boat carrying 28 Chinese nationals was reported missing on January 28. (AFP)
Updated 29 January 2017
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23 missing Chinese in Malaysia boat sinking found alive: minister

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: Twenty-three Chinese tourists and two crew members have survived after their boat sank in rough seas off eastern Malaysia but six people are still missing, a minister said on Sunday.
The sinking of the catamaran on Saturday, the first day of the Lunar New Year holiday, sparked a major air and sea search covering some 400 nautical square miles.
The operation would continue overnight to try to save five missing Chinese and one crew member, said Shahidan Kassim, minister in the Prime Minister’s Department.
“We will deploy search assets that can operate at night, and continue our rescue operations to locate those who are still missing,” he told a press conference in Malaysia’s eastern state of Sabah on Borneo island.
All three crew members are Malaysians.
The boat had left Saturday morning from the Sabah state capital Kota Kinabalu en route for Pulau Mengalum, an island known for its pristine beaches and dive sites.
The boat owner reported it missing on Saturday evening.
The skipper and one of the two crew members were found alive earlier Sunday off a nearby island, before the discovery of the other survivors.
“According to the skipper, the boat was ‘broken’ after being hit by waves and sank,” said Ahmad Puzi Kahar, head of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, in a statement.
The tourists were tied together and were carried away by the current, Puzi said, without specifying whether they were wearing life jackets.
The search and rescue involved officers from the maritime agency, the police, the navy and the air force.
Malaysian navy chief Ahmad Kamarulzaman Ahmad Badaruddin said navy ships and a C130 aircraft were on site for the search.
It was “so sad as it happened on CNY (Chinese New Year),” he tweeted.
Roughs seas and strong winds hampered the search on Saturday night and Sunday, authorities said.
Prime Minister Najib Razak said he was closely monitoring developments.
Chinese President Xi Jinping “demanded all-out search and rescue efforts” by Malaysia, his country’s official Xinhua news agency reported.
It added that an emergency team, led by an official from Beijing’s national tourism administration, had been set up to handle the incident.
China’s foreign ministry said its consulate in Kota Kinabalu had contacted Malaysian authorities and urged them to do everything they could to rescue the tourists.
“Yesterday was the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year and it should have been a happy day. Unfortunately, such a bad thing happened,” China’s consul-general in Sabah, Chen Peijie, was quoted as saying by state news agency Bernama.
An earlier disaster involving Chinese visitors to Malaysia — the unexplained disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines plane in March 2014 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing — soured relations between the two nations for a time.
Most of the 239 people on board were Chinese, and Malaysian authorities were fiercely criticized for allegedly giving scanty or inaccurate information.
The latest incident came about a week after a boat tragedy off the southern Malaysian state of Johor.
Several bodies washed ashore at a beach near the east coast town of Mersing in Johor on Monday after a boat believed to be carrying some 40 Indonesian illegal immigrants capsized in rough seas.


Migrant caravan blockade: US Army unfurls fencing along border with Mexico

Updated 24 min 3 sec ago
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Migrant caravan blockade: US Army unfurls fencing along border with Mexico

  • Some Laredo residents had voiced disquiet about the fencing and the presence of US troops
  • ‘It reminds me of Hitler and the concentration camps’

LAREDO, United State: They started work in the cool of the morning and moved quickly, uncoiling reel after reel of vicious-looking fencing and tying it with barbed wire to green poles hammered into the ground.
Over the course of three days, a gleaming, shoulders-high barrier of concertina-wire emerged like a silver snake along a lush riverbank, stretching as far as the eye could see.
This was the work of 100 or so American troops from the 19th Engineer Battalion, based in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Rather than finding themselves in a far-off warzone, the soldiers are in Laredo, a busy border town overlooking a stretch of the Rio Grande river in southwest Texas, carrying out controversial orders from President Donald Trump.
He has sent about 5,800 troops to the border to forestall the arrival of large groups of Central American migrants traveling through Mexico and toward the US, in a move critics decry as a costly political stunt to galvanize supporters ahead of midterm elections earlier this month.
Before the election Trump called the matter a “national emergency” and warned that so-called migrant caravans were an “invasion” with “some very bad thugs and gang members.”
So far at least, the most visible aspect of Trump’s deployment is the fence, a visible deterrent and physical obstacle to migrants, designed to corral would-be asylum seekers toward organized points of entry into the US.
Over the weekend, Lt. Alan Koepnick’s platoon could be seen stringing concertina wire, which is built to snag clothing, along one edge of a quiet riverside park near downtown Laredo.
As families walked dogs, grilled sausages and relaxed, the soldiers mounted the wire, occasionally ripping their camouflaged uniforms on its metal barbs.
Koepnick said some Laredo residents had voiced disquiet about the fencing and the presence of US troops.
“But there’s also been a lot of support, people coming in, vets shaking our hands, bringing us cakes, water, things like that,” Koepnick said.
About 100 yards (meters) behind him, a group of people on the Mexican side of the river could be seen standing on the bank.
“You’ll see people across the river cursing at us in Spanish, throwing bottles at us. But on this side it’s more positive,” Koepnick said.
He and his soldiers were unarmed, but a group of armed military police officers stood by to provide “force protection.”
Under US law, the military is not allowed to conduct domestic law enforcement in most cases, so soldiers here will not have any direct interactions with migrants.
Trump created a media whirlwind by sounding the alarm about the migrant caravans before the November 6 elections. He has mainly stopped raising it since, though last week he praised the military’s work.
“They built great fencing, they built a very powerful fence,” said Trump, who wants to build a hardened wall along the entire 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border.
Laura Pole, a British tourist visiting Laredo for the third time, was less enthusiastic.
“It reminds me of Hitler and the concentration camps,” she said, but added: “I really don’t know what’s the best thing to do.”
The border mission has put the supposedly non-political military in an uncomfortable spotlight.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has hit back at critics who say the Pentagon should not be doing Trump’s political bidding, saying “we don’t do stunts.”
He visited troops on the border last week and reiterated that their job in the short term was to assist under-resourced Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and put up physical obstacles.
But “longer term, it’s somewhat to be determined,” he said.
After some rank-and-file troops grumbled about the purpose of the mission to US media last week, they are now under strict instructions not to voice personal opinions to the press.
Several soldiers AFP spoke to said their time on the border provided valuable real-world training, albeit without the risks of combat.
“We have a very large group of brand-new soldiers and it’s really good for them,” Corporal Samuel Fletcher said, citing a chance for the green troops “to do real work and put their skills to use.”
In Laredo, large groups of migrants from the caravans in Mexico had not arrived.
Instead they were mainly headed to Tijuana, about 1,300 miles away in San Diego, where authorities say more than 3,000 have already arrived.
Still, a CBP agent, who was not authorized to give his name, said he was glad of the military assistance as each day, “hundreds” of migrants attempt to cross the approximately 30-mile stretch of border he patrols.
The military deployment is set to wrap up December 15 and it is not clear what will become of the wire fencing.
Already, the winds whistling down the Rio Grande valley are strewing trash, clothing and plastic bags along the jagged wire.
“Nobody seems to know when it’s coming down. It’s not really our decision,” said Koepnick.
“If we are told to take it down, we will take it down with a smile on our faces, like good soldiers.”