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Ocean Viking’s largest ever rescue

Voice Of EU

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The sky and the water are both the colour of the night, inseparable from one another.

With the exception of the faint glimmer of a Libyan gas platform in the far distance, the horizon had all but disappeared.

  • Exhausted survivors find space to sleep. The women and children are placed in a separate shelter onboard (Photo: Nikolaj Nielsen)

Onboard the Ocean Viking search-and-rescue vessel, the bridge had five hours earlier been alerted of numerous people on a boat somewhere in the Libyan search-and-rescue region.

Details were scant, and – with the Libyan coast guard making record interceptions – the chance of finding them on the boat appeared slim.

But the Ocean Viking still pressed on, its exhausted crew up since 3am, after two other rescues that had taken place earlier that same day.

The wooden boat had first been spotted by Pilot Volontaires, an NGO. Its location was approximately 80 nautical miles from the Libyan port city of Zuwara, a known smuggling hub.

“We have a visual, it is only a blinking light. It is less than one mile away,” search-and-rescue team leader Jeremie [EUobserver is only using the crew’s first names] told his small crew onboard the Ocean Viking at around 9.30 pm on Sunday (4 July).

“It is night time, we can’t see shit. I don’t want to hear any sound, I want everybody to be focused,” he told them.

“We don’t know what it is at all, so we are going to launch, we are going to have to investigate ourselves.”

Ten minutes later, Jeremie’s rescue speed boat was lowered into the black sea with EUobserver onboard.

The second speed boat, led by Charlie, was launched from the Ocean Viking’s starboard.

It then pulled back from the Ocean Viking with Jeremie radioing the bridge asking for an estimated bearing of the distress case.

“Zero, four, one from the ship and 1.6 miles,” replied the bridge.

The twin 115 horsepower outboard engines churned the water a frothing white, as they headed in the direction of the bearing.

They then pass in front of the Ocean Viking, also at full speed, its massive red bow momentarily towering over us.

The bridge then suddenly loses visual on the wooden boat – but is still able to track it on radar, now appearing as a green dot on a monitor.

“Five degrees starboard side. You are three cables away,” says the bridge, over the radio.

Then Ocean Viking slows down to a stop as the two speed boats continue slowly, and at distance, into the near-silent darkness.

Standing on the bow platform, Jeremie shines a flood light into the water, momentarily turning the surface of the sea into hues of dark slate.

He then switches it off, the engines kick into gear and the speed boat begins to slowly advance into nothingness.

But then in the near distance a sharp white light suddenly appears and then disappears.

“We are struggling to follow the light,” says Jeremie into the radio, as they advance.

Apparition

The people emerge like an apparition.

First the blue hull of the wooden boat and then the vague silhouette of bodies, some standing.

“Light the water and the structure of the boat for the moment,” Jeremie tells Charlie, over the radio.

Hundreds. Squeezed one-by-one. Their legs dangling over the edge of the boat as the sound of their excited voices become clearer and clearer.

A bilge pump on the side is channeling out water, suggesting more people are in the hull.

Jeremie calls it in, telling the bridge they’ll have to launch the third speed boat along with at least two life-rafts.

“I guess we have to go by the book,” he says, also requesting additional life jackets to those already brought along.

His rescue boat touches the stern of the wooden, and shines a light over their faces.

In the back, a person holds up a baby before sitting down.

Jeremie’s Egyptian crew member Hassan stands next to him, ready to interpret and shout instructions in Arabic for those on board.

Disembarking is the most dangerous moment

The moment is critical.

An overexcited crowd can be dangerous, may capsize the boat and lead to massive drownings.

None appear to be wearing any life jackets, and a few are holding black inflated tubes.

“We are going to be here the whole night,” says Jeremie.

The plan appears straightforward.

Extract 25 people at a time, shuttle them back to Ocean Viking and then return with 25 additional life jackets.

“This boat is dangerous – those people, and those people,” shouts Jeremie, pointing to those seated on the very edge.

“They are in danger,” he says, noting they will get the first life jackets.

Some begin to shout, one is pushed, and a fear appears to spread in the crowd.

The speed boat quickly pulls back into the distance, waits for the calm to restore and then returns.

The extraction begins, one by one they are brought on the rescue boats and ferried back.

On the Ocean Viking, the medical and deck crew teams are helping the new arrivals.

A group of Libyans from an earlier rescue are helping as well, handing out surgical masks, spraying santisers on their hands while welcoming the near new arrivals with pats on the back.

A young man from Bangladesh is in total shock, sobbing uncontrollably into his arm, his right hand shaking as he takes a seat on a wooden bench by the medical module. “Thank you, thank you so much,” he says through tears.

The last survivor, out of a 369 saved on this night, stepped onto the Ocean Viking at 3.30 in the morning.

It is the largest rescue ever carried out by the Ocean Viking. The total number of survivors currently on board is 572, also a record.

Now they have to find a port of safety and disembark, a prospect that will likely lead to a stand-off with the authorities.

For its part, the European Commission told EUobserver on Monday (5 July) it had no say in the matter, and will not put any political pressure to ease disembarkation for the Ocean Viking.

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Missing child in Germany: German boy found alive after surviving eight days in sewer | International

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German police have found an eight-year-old boy who went missing from his home in Oldenburg, a city of 170,000 people in northwestern Germany. The child, named Joe, was discovered on Saturday in a sewer just 300 meters from his house. He had survived in the sewer for eight days while hundreds of officers and volunteers frantically searched the surface for clues to his whereabouts. “Eight-year-old Joe lives!” police in Oldenburg announced on Twitter.

The boy, who suffers from learning disabilities, disappeared on June 17 from the garden of his house. Police launched a large-scale search with drones, helicopters, sniffer dogs and dozens of officers, who were joined by hundreds of volunteers. As the days passed, a homicide team joined the investigation amid growing fears that Joe – who is only identified by his first name due to Germany’s privacy laws – could have been the victim of a violent crime. A witness claimed to have seen him in the company of an unidentified man and it was feared he may have been kidnapped.

“It was absolute luck,” said Stephan Klatte, the Oldenburg police spokesman, said of Joe’s discovery. A neighbor who was walking in the area raised the alarm when he heard “a whining noise” coming from the ground, just under a drain. When officers lifted the manhole cover, they found the boy, completely naked. He had no serious external injuries, but was dehydrated and suffering from hypothermia, for which he was taken to hospital for treatment. According to German media, he is recovering well. “If he hadn’t made a sound, or if no one had heard him, we might never have found him,” Klatte said.

In a statement, the police reported that they believed that Joe likely entered the rainwater drainage system through a sewer on the same day of his disappearance and “lost his bearings after walking several meters.” Police have ruled out any foul play in the incident.

On Sunday, the day after Joe was discovered, police commissioned a specialized company to inspect the sewage system with a robot equipped with a camera. The robot examined the sewer between the boy’s home and the place where he was found. It recorded several items of clothing, including what he was wearing when he disappeared, in a pipe about 60 centimeters in diameter that runs under one of the streets of the neighborhood where he lives with his parents. The robot found, for example, the child’s vest, 70 meters from the point of entry.

Officers found an entrance to a three-foot-wide drainage channel near the farm where he was last seen on the day of his disappearance. Authorities believe the boy entered the channel while playing. After 23 meters, the tunnel leads to another narrower plastic pipe and police think it is likely the eight-year-old continued down this path. Joe was eventually found about 290 meters from where he entered the sewer system.

Police believe that Joe became more and more disoriented until he could no longer find a way out. “A first statement from the child confirms this assumption,” said the statement, which does not provide more details about what he told officers. Investigators say they have not been able to question the boy in detail, as he remains in hospital. Nothing has been found to suggest that the child came to the surface in the eight days in which he was missing. In the statement, police asked that no questions about his state of health be made out of respect for him and his family.



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Bereaved then evicted by in-laws: Kenya’s widows fight disinheritance | Global development

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Within months of the death of her husband in 2014, Doreen Kajuju Kimathi, from Meru, eastern Kenya, was told that his bank accounts had been frozen, and she had been forced out of her home by her in-laws.

The pregnant 37-year-old was left with no resources to fight back, and returned to her parents’ home. “It was traumatising, and I went into depression for five years,” says Kimathi.

Doreen Kajuju Kimathi
Doreen Kajuju Kimathi, who now volunteers for a widows’ support group. Photograph: Courtesy of Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa

Her experience is far from unique. While Kenya protects widows’ inheritance in theory, the patriarchal culture and the influence of colonial legislation that restricted married women’s property rights means the law is often not enforced.

“There is an entire parallel system operating outside succession laws,” says Roseline Njogu, a Kenyan lawyer. “Years of law reform have led us to formal equality, but equality of law doesn’t mean equality of power, and that’s where we get tripped up.”

Human rights groups report that discriminatory practices in marriage limit women’s capacity to own land. According to the Kenya Land Alliance, only 1% of land titles are registered to women, and another 6% are registered jointly with a man.

While children have equal inheritance rights, land is more often passed on to sons, leaving daughters with fewer assets, and making a future wife vulnerable to eviction if her spouse’s family regard the property as theirs.

For young widows such as Kimathi, it can be even harder to hold on to marital property. “You’re considered less entitled to it because you’re expected to remarry,” she says.

But a fightback is under way. Grassroots organisations are emerging all around the country to build community awareness of women’s legal rights. One group, the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization (CTWOO), has offered legal advice and support to nearly 500,000 widows since 2013.

The NGO is trying to address disinheritance at its roots. It works with other groups to increase financial and legal literacy across the country, especially among married couples, encouraging them to discuss finances openly, and to write wills.

Dianah Kamande, the founder of the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization.
Dianah Kamande, the founder of the Come Together Widows and Orphans Organization. Photograph: Courtesy of CTWOO

The founder, Dianah Kamande, says that – contrary to popular belief – most dispossessed widows are middle-class, like Kimathi, not poor. The poor usually have less property, and the rich have access to lawyers.

Kamande says death and estate planning are still taboo topics for many married couples, and that some people obscure their wealth. “Men keep lots of secrets about money from their wives, and trust their mothers and siblings more – who in turn disinherit the wife and children,” she says.

Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa logo
Grassroots groups are emerging to build awareness of widows’ rights. Photograph: Courtesy of Widows Empowerment Initiative for Africa

The country’s Unclaimed Financial Assets Authority says it has 50bn Kenyan shillings (£347m) in unclaimed assets, and about 40% is money left by people after they die. Concerned by the rising number of unclaimed assets, research by the authority found roughly 43% of Kenyan respondents said they would not disclose their financial assets to anyone – even people they trusted.

“There’s secrecy around financial investments. For many of the people who find out about the assets left by their spouse, it’s a eureka moment,” says Paul Muya, of the UFAA.

Five years after being widowed, Kimathi’s life was still on hold. She had looked into hiring a lawyer but could not afford it. Without access to the family property, it was difficult for her and her son to get by, and she had to rely on help from her parents and sister.

But through the CTWOO, she found out that she did not need a lawyer to access the courts. She filed a claim, and within a year had gained access to almost all of her dead husband’s property. Last year, Kimathi opened a bar and restaurant in Kitui, 110 miles east of Nairobi.

“It was a huge relief to get the money. Being a widow in Kenya is financially and socially isolating, and knowing what that’s like pushed me to help others in the same situation,” says Kimathi, who now volunteers with a widows’ support group.

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WHO concerned about first cases of monkeypox in children | Science & Tech

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Reports of young children infected by monkeypox in Europe – there were at least four in recent days, with a fifth one recorded a few weeks ago – have raised concern about the progress of an outbreak now affecting more than 5,500 people in 51 countries.

The health organization’s Europe chief, Hans Kluge, also warned on Friday that overall cases in the region have tripled in the last two weeks. “Urgent and coordinated action is imperative if we are to turn a corner in the race to reverse the ongoing spread of this disease,” said Kluge.

The WHO has not yet declared the outbreak a global health emergency, however. At a meeting last Saturday, the agency ruled it out but said it could change its views if certain scenarios come to pass, such as a spike in cases among vulnerable groups like children, pregnant women and immunocompromised people. Available data shows that children, especially younger ones, are at higher risk of serious illness if they become infected.

The last known case of a child contracting monkeypox was reported on Tuesday in Spain, where a three-year-old was confirmed to have the disease. Cases in Spain are now in excess of 1,500 according to health reports filed by regional governments.

Also on Tuesday, Dutch authorities reported that a primary school student had become infected and that contact tracing had been initiated to rule out more cases within the child’s close circle of contacts. On Saturday, France reported one confirmed case and one suspected case among elementary school students.

The UK has so far recorded at least two infections in minors. The first case, reported in May, involved a baby who had to be taken to intensive care for treatment with the antiviral Tecovirimat, of which few doses are available but which has already begun to be distributed in several countries. British authorities this week reported a second case of a child with monkeypox. The UK currently has the biggest monkeypox outbreak beyond Africa.

The main vaccine being used against monkeypox was originally developed for smallpox. The European Medicines Agency said earlier this week it was beginning to evaluate whether the shot should be authorized for monkeypox. The WHO has said supplies of the vaccine, made by Bavarian Nordic, are extremely limited.

Until May, monkeypox had never been known to cause large outbreaks beyond Africa, where the disease is endemic in several countries and mostly causes limited outbreaks when it jumps to people from infected wild animals.

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