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Posts tagged ‘Bay of Bengal’

Malaysia Prime Minister: ‘Deliberate Action’ Caused Jet to Disappear.

Investigators searched the home of the pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet Saturday as the probe focused on possible sabotage.

Officials now believe someone on board deliberately shut off its communications and tracking systems, turned the plane around, and flew for nearly seven hours after it vanished from radar, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday.

“These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane,” Razak said.

A Malaysian official, who was not named because he was not authorized to brief the press, went further, telling The Associated Press that hijacking was no longer a theory. ”

“It is conclusive,” the official said.

The move on the pilot’s home came in after analysis of data indicating the plane made erratic changes in altitude and course — and that manual changes attempted to mask the jet’s location.

“Increasingly, it seems to be heading into the criminal arena,” Richard Healing, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, told the Wall Street Journal Friday.

The latest bits of information from the probe “indicate the emphasis is on determining if a hijacker or crew member diverted the plane,” he said.

A U.S. official told the Associated Press investigators are now examining whether the baffling disappearance may have been ‘‘an act of piracy.’’

The New York Times reported radar signals recorded by the Malaysian military show Flight 370 — which took off from Kuala Lumpur last Saturday with 279 people aboard — climbed to 45,000 feet soon after it disappeared from civilian radar, then made a sharp turn to the west.

The radar track showed the plane then dropping to just 23,000 feet as it approached the island of Penang, one of the country’s largest.

Military radar last recorded the plane flying at 29,500 feet some 200 miles northwest of Penang and headed toward India’s Andaman Islands, the Times reported.

An unidentified Malaysian official told The Associated Press only a skilled aviator could navigate the plane the way it was flown after its last confirmed location over the South China Sea.

An Asia-based Boeing pilot told the Times flying above the plane’s service limit of 43,100 feet, along with a depressurized cabin, could have knocked out passengers and crew — and could have been a deliberate maneuver by a pilot or hijacker.

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The Journal reported investigators suspect two systems were shut off after the Beijing-bound plane took off: First, the plane’s transponders stopped functioning about an hour into the flight, making it difficult for air-traffic controllers to track the craft on radar.

Then, a second system sent a routine aircraft-monitoring message to a satellite indicating someone made a manual change in the plane’s heading that turned it sharply to the west, The Journal said.

The plane is now also believed to have continued flying for more than four hours after diverting its course — based on automated “pings” sent by onboard systems that try to connect with satellites.

One of the most chilling findings came from investigators examining data transmitted from the plane’s Rolls-Royce engines, showing the aircraft descending 40,000 feet in the space of a minute, the Times reported.

Investigators don’t believe it.

“A lot of stock cannot be put in the altitude data” sent from the engines, the Times quoted one unnamed official saying. “A lot of this doesn’t make sense.”

Aviation lecturer Cengiz Turkoglu of City University London said dramatic changes in altitude can happen because of a deliberate act in the cockpit, but that “it is extremely difficult for an aircraft to physically, however heavy it might be, to free fall,” the Times reported.

Initial fears, later discounted, were that terrorists might have brought the plane down after it disappeared.

Investigators also considered, but dismissed, the possibility that hijackers landed the plane somewhere for later use in a terrorist attack, the Times reported.

But one official told the Times that current information “leads them to believe that it either ran out of fuel or crashed right before it ran out of fuel.”

Meanwhile, CNN reported a classified analysis by the United States and Malaysian governments calculates the flight likely crashed into the Indian Ocean on one of two possible flight paths.

In one flight path scenario, the plane went down in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of India; another scenario has the plane traveling southeast and crashing into the Indian Ocean.

Still another theory being considered has the plane coming down in the remote Andaman Islands.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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By Cathy Burke

Spirit-Led Prayer Helps Divert Cyclone Mahasen.


Rohingya people in Arakan State, Burma
Some 140,000 Rohingya refugees living on the shoreline of Burma’s Arakan State were threatened by last week’s Cyclone Mahasen. Partners Relief and Development is now engaged in the recovery process. (Partners Relief and Development, Facebook)

In Matthew, Jesus says faith can move mountains. Updates from Southeast Asia show it can move cyclones too.

Early last week, Cyclone Mahasen was expected to bring death and destruction to the coastlines of Burma and Bangladesh.

“Last time we talked, I asked people to pray for the weather to change and for the damage to be minimal,” says Oddny Gumaer of Partners Relief and Development (PRD). “We were very worried because there were all these internally displaced people, refugees, living on the beach in really primitive shacks.”

Some 140,000 Rohingya refugees living on the shoreline of Burma’s Arakan state were facing certain death. In Bangladesh, 1 million people were evacuated from the coastline in preparation for the storm.

Cyclones are an annual occurrence in the Bay of Bengal. Some communities are still trying to recover from past storms and the damage they’ve inflicted, such as 2008’s Cyclone Nargis. That severe storm stands as one of the worst in Burma’s recorded history and killed over 130,000 people in four countries.

Gospel for Asia’s (GFA) K.P. Yohannan says that as storm clouds approached Bangladesh last week, “Lots of people were gathering in our churches and otherwise; people [were] praying for God to have mercy.”

However, “just hours before the cyclone was supposed to hit the shores … it changed direction,” Gumaer reports.

Mahasen made landfall in Bangladesh on Thursday as a tropical storm. Though half the storm it used to be, Mahasen still managed to cause significant damage in one of Southeast Asia’s poorest countries.

The storm surge destroyed thousands of small huts and shacks, leaving hundreds of thousands of people homeless or displaced. GFA says the 13 deaths reported so far may be grossly underestimated, because Mahasen ripped through mainly rural areas.

Trained and equipped for rapid response, GFA missionaries are delivering food, clothing and temporary shelter. But the real work hasn’t even begun yet, says Yohannan.

“The rebuilding process takes a long time, and that’s what our people are engaged in,” he says. “It will take a minimum of six months, after the waters subside and land is cleared, for these poor people to come back and find out they have nothing left.”

That’s where GFA Bridge of Hope centers and national missionaries come in.

“People need to hear hope, and that’s what our people do,” Yohannan says.

In neighboring Burma, PRD is engaged in the recovery process too.

“We are now in the process of bringing all the thousands of people back into their camps from the places they were evacuated to,” Gumaer says.

But they’re not coming back to “home sweet home.”

“Even though the storm didn’t wipe them out, they are still in a very, very difficult place,” he says. “They do need a lot of help; they need a lot of prayer; they need a change to their situation. And the government really needs to get involved in helping these people.”

Yohannan points to Cyclone Mahasen as a lesson for the body of Christ.

“Any of these situations around the world—when we see earthquake or war or cyclone or tsunami—we need to engage in prayer. God does intervene in the affairs of men,” he says.



Cyclone Batters Bangladesh; 1 Million Flee.

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh — The outer bands of Cyclone Mahasen struck the southern coast of Bangladesh on Thursday, lashing remote fishing villages with heavy rain and fierce winds that flattened mud and straw huts and forced the evacuation of more than 1 million people.

The eye of the storm was expected to reach land Thursday evening, but at least 18 deaths related to Mahasen already have been reported in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

The storm was on course for Bangladesh, Myanmar, and northeast India, bringing life-threatening conditions to an area with a total population of 8.2 million, according to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Danger was particularly high for tens of thousands of displaced Rohingya people living in plastic-roofed tents and huts made of reeds in dozens of refugee camps along Myanmar’s western coast.

Driven from their homes by violence, members of the Muslim minority group refused to evacuate, distrusting an order from officials in a majority-Buddhist country where Rohingya have faced decades of discrimination.

Early Thursday, the cyclone battered the southern Bangladesh fishing village of Khepurpara along the Bay of Bengal with 100 kph (62 mph) winds and was heading east toward the city of Chittagong and the seafront resort town of Cox’s Bazar.

River ferries and boat service were suspended, and scores of factories near the choppy Bay of Bengal were closed. The military said it was keeping 22 navy ships and 19 Air Force helicopters at the ready.

Tens of thousands of people fled their shanty homes along the coast and packed into cyclone shelters, schools, government office buildings and some of the 300 hotels in Cox’s Bazar to wait out the storm. Some brought their livestock, which took shelter outside.

“We have seen such a disaster before,” said Mohammad Abu Taleb, who shut down his convenience shop in the city of 200,000. “It’s better to stay home. I’m not taking any chance.”

A 1991 cyclone that slammed into Bangladesh from the Bay of Bengal killed an estimated 139,000 people and left millions homeless. In 2008, Myanmar’s southern delta was devastated Cyclone Nargis, which swept away entire farming villages and killed more than 130,000 people.

Both those cyclones were much more powerful than Cyclone Mahasen, which is rated Category 1 — the weakest level. It could hit land with maximum wind speeds of about 120 kph (75 mph), said Mohammad Shah Alam, director of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department.

Heavy rain and storm surge could prove deadlier than the wind. Bangladesh’s meteorological office said the cyclone was moving so slowly it may take a whole day for it to pass the Bangladesh coast.

In Cox’s Bazar, local government administrator Ruhul Amin turned his own three-story office building into a shelter for about 400 people as intermittent rains and gusty winds hit.

Huddling with the crowd, evacuee Mohammad Tayebullah said, “Each time there is a cyclone warning we come to the town for shelter. This has become part of our life.”

The Bangladesh Ministry of Disaster Management said more than 1 million people had been evacuated from coastal areas. Television stations reported the deaths of two men, one of whom was crushed by a tree uprooted by the wind.

India’s Meteorological Department forecast damage to the northeastern states of Assam, Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura, and Nagaland, and advised fishermen off the west coast of the country to be cautious for the next 36 hours.

Related heavy rains and flooding in Sri Lanka were blamed for eight deaths earlier this week. At least eight people — and possibly many more — were killed in Myanmar as they fled the cyclone Monday night, when overcrowded boats carrying more than 100 Rohingya capsized. Only 43 people had been rescued by Thursday, and more than 50 Rohingya were still missing.

Much attention was focused on western Myanmar because of fears over the fate of the crowded, low-lying Rohingya camps.

In Rakhine state, around 140,000 people — mostly Rohingya — have been living in the camps since last year, when two outbreaks of sectarian violence between the Muslim minority and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists forced many Rohingya from their homes.

Nearly half the displaced live in coastal areas considered highly vulnerable to storm surges and flooding from Cyclone Mahasen.

“Pack and leave,” a Rakhine state official, U Hla Maung, warned as he walked through a camp near Sittwe, the state capital. Accompanied by more than a dozen soldiers and riot police, he suggested that people living there move to a nearby railroad embankment, then left without offering help.

Distrust of authorities led many Rohingya to stay where they were Thursday morning.

“We have no safe place to move, so we’re staying here, whether the storm comes or not,” said Ko Hla Maung, an unemployed fisherman. “The soldiers want to take us to a village closer to the sea, and we’re not going to do that.. . . . If the storm is coming, then that village will be destroyed.”

Even as rain and wind from the edges of Cyclone Mahasen began to pelt the coast near Sittwe, most people camped there appeared to be staying put. Some, however, were taking down their tents and hauling their belongings away in cycle-rickshaws, or carrying them in bags balanced on their heads.

“Now we’re afraid. . . . We decided to move early this morning,” said U Kwaw Swe, a 62-year-old father of seven who was hoping the government would transport his family. Otherwise they intended to walk to safety.

Myanmar’s President’s Office Minister Aung Min told reporters Wednesday that the government guarantees the safety of the Rohingyas during relocation and promises to return them to their current settlement when the storm has passed.

The Rohingya trace their ancestry to what is now Bangladesh, but many have lived in Myanmar for generations. Officially, though, they are dismissed as illegal immigrants. They face widespread discrimination in largely Buddhist Myanmar, and particularly in Rakhine, where many of the Rohingya live.

Tensions remain high in Rakhine nearly a year after sectarian unrest tore through the region and left parts of Sittwe, the state capital, burned to the ground. At least 192 people were killed.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Malaysia takes in shipwrecked Myanmar migrants refused by Singapore.

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian authorities have allowed 40 migrants from Myanmar into the country two weeks after their vessel sank in the Bay of Bengal, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Wednesday.

Singapore did not let the migrants enter despite an appeal by the UNHCR after they were rescued by a Vietnamese cargo when their vessel sank on December 5.

It was not immediately clear if they were Rohingyas, Muslim people from northwest Myanmar. Violence erupted between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims in northwest Myanmar’s Rakhine state in June and has broken out intermittently since then.

Many Rohingya people, facing violence and persecution, have left Myanmar in rickety boats bound for southeast Asia in search of better lives.

“Prior to their rescue, survivors of the initial boat sinking had spent many hours in the waters of the Bay of Bengal. It is still unclear how many people died in this incident,” the UNHCR said in a statement.

The plight of the migrants highlights the uncertain reception faced by hundreds of Myanmar people fleeing inter-communal violence and poverty.

A Malaysian government official confirmed that the boat people were safely in the country but gave no details.

(Reporting By Siva Sithraputhran; Editing by Robert Birsel)



India PM seeks to heal bad blood on Myanmar visit.

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  • Workers from Indian conglomerate Essar Group construct a new port in Sittwe May 19, 2012. In northwest Myanmar, where the Kaladan River flows out into the Bay of Bengal, the two giant arms of a half-built wharf enfold the estuarine mud with steel and concrete. Their embrace is fraternal -- Myanmar's giant neighbor India is funding this new port in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State -- but also strategic. REUTERS/Damir SagoljWorkers from Indian conglomerate …
  • Workers from Indian conglomerate Essar Group construct a new port in Sittwe May 19, 2012. In northwest Myanmar, where the Kaladan River flows out into the Bay of Bengal, the two giant arms of a half-built wharf enfold the estuarine mud with steel and concrete. Their embrace is fraternal -- Myanmar's giant neighbor India is funding this new port in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State -- but also strategic. REUTERS/Damir SagoljWorkers from Indian conglomerate …

SITTWE, Myanmar (Reuters) – In northwest Myanmar, where the Kaladan River flows out into the Bay of Bengal, the two giant arms of a half-built wharf enfold the estuarine mud with steel and concrete.

              Their embrace is fraternal – Myanmar’s giant neighbor India is funding the new port in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State – but also strategic.

              The port is part of a $214-million river and road network that will carve a trade route into India’s landlocked northeast and underscore New Delhi‘s determination to capitalize on Myanmar’s growing importance at Asia’s crossroads.

              Manmohan Singh will seek to bolster ties this week during the first visit by an Indian prime minister to Myanmar in 25 years. His official agenda includes road, rail, waterways and air links, says India’s foreign ministry.

              Unofficially, he must also overcome a history of bad blood with Myanmar, where Indian investments are already dwarfed by regional rival China.

The visit follows a year of dramatic reforms in which Myanmar has pulled back from China’s powerful economic and political orbit and won a suspension of U.S. and European sanctions.

President Thein Sein‘s government has held peace talks with ethnic minority rebels, relaxed strict media censorship, allowed trade unions and protests and held a by-election dominated by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi‘s opposition party.

              As Myanmar emerges from decades of isolation, trade between the countries is already swelling. Myanmar’s government expects two-way trade with India to nearly double in two years to $2 billion, from $1.4 billion in the year to March 30, a figure that was nearly 30 percent higher from the previous year, according to Myanmar’s Ministry of Commerce.

              India should be a natural partner, with ties stretching back to the ancient Buddhist emperor Ashoka and, more recently, a shared experience of British colonialism and World War Two.

              But its business interests in the former Burma have been “few and far between” since the mass expulsion of Indian merchants after the military seized power in 1962, says Thant Myint-U, author of “Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia”.

              “Many in India remember all too well that this was the country that nationalized Indian businesses and expelled hundreds of thousands of ethnic Indians with literally nothing more than the shirts on their backs,” he said.

              One hopeful symbol of improved ties is Sittwe.

The two countries formally agreed on the so-called Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project in April 2008, just seven months after Myanmar’s military junta crushed nationwide pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks.

Work began on Sittwe port in September 2010, shortly before the former military junta held a rigged election that brought to power a quasi-civilian but surprisingly reformist government.

Indian conglomerate Essar Group is building the port on 70,000 square meters (753,000 sq ft) of landfill in Sittwe’s centre. It should be ready in two years, says Myanmar’s Commerce Ministry, accommodating ships from the Indian city of Kolkata, a 539-km (334 mile) voyage away across the Bay of Bengal, and handling up to 500,000 metric tons a year.

From Sittwe, ships will sail up the Kaladan River to the town of Paletwa, where Essar will build a second, smaller port. A 122-km (76-mile) highway will connect Paletwa to the Indian state of Mizoram. The two ports and dredge work will cost $74 million. The highway will cost $140 million.


              India is already Myanmar’s third-biggest export market after Thailand and China. But Thant Myint-U plays down Myanmar’s economic importance to India. “Myanmar is extremely important for India’s northeast, but because the northeast itself rarely gets Delhi’s attention, that in itself doesn’t count for much.”

              However, New Delhi is acutely aware of Myanmar’s strategic significance “because of China’s increasing economic presence and anxiety about a possible future Chinese presence on the Bay of Bengal”, he says.

Not far south of Sittwe, Chinese money is funding a bigger port and special economic zone in Kyaukphyu, a coastal town where Myanmar-China pipelines reach the Bay of Bengal, creating a passage from western China to South and Southeast Asia and allowing shipments of fuel and natural resources to avoid the Malacca Strait.

An Essar company official said “communication problems” had been a headache during the project, with Myanmar officials slow to provide information and language issues also a hurdle. The company, however, would consider further projects in the country, given they had already worked there.

“Business is all about relationships, and we have been meeting the right people,” the official said.

              A delegation of Indian business officials will join the prime minister on his visit, said an Indian Foreign Ministry official, adding that India was looking at setting up a special economic zone.

              Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was once lionized by New Delhi, which gave her the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru Award in 1993 and Myanmar’s dictatorship the cold shoulder.

But with growing investment in Myanmar by regional rival China, the world’s biggest democracy has forged closer ties, inviting former dictator Senior General Than Shwe on an official state visit to India in 2004.

Three years later, after he presided over a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks, India was widely criticized for its muted response amid international outrage.

              “Manmohan Singh has to do more than offer ports, bridges and roads, as the Chinese do,” says Thant Myint-U. “Instead, he has to … delve deeply into the very long history of cultural ties between the two countries and come up with a new vision for Indo-Burmese relations.

              “The problem is that no one in Burma thinks of India when they think of the future.”

              Still, Myanmar expects to benefit from the Sittwe project, partly from jobs. Essar employs 600 local people on the Sittwe site, although it brought in most of its skilled workers and specialist construction equipment from India.

              “This project is good for the northeast part of India and for Myanmar,” Myanmar Industry Minister Soe Thein said in an interview with Reuters in the capital, Naypyitaw. “We can’t do it ourselves due to the lack of budget and problems in our financial sector.”

              (Additional reporting by Satarupa Bhattacharjya, Anurag Kotoky and Frank Jack Daniel in New Delhi and Jason Szep in Naypyitaw; Editing by Robert Birsel)


ReutersBy Andrew R.C. Marshall | Reuters 

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