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Phuket Gazette World News: Australia resumes ocean search for Flight MH370 black boxes

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Phuket Gazette World News: Australia resumes ocean search for Flight MH370 black boxes | Thaiger

PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Australia resumes ocean search for Flight MH370 black boxes
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: If two blurred objects photographed from space are confirmed as debris from Flight MH370, scientists will still face a daunting task to find and recover the sensitive recorders containing clues to the Malaysian jet’s disappearance.

With so little known about why the Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines flight changed course and disappeared after leaving Kuala Lumpur on March 8, finding the ‘black boxes’ is seen as the only real hope of understanding what happened to the plane and the 239 people on board.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday said objects possibly belonging to the plane had been discovered in the Indian Ocean. The area is around 2,500 km (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth, above a volcanic ridge in waters estimated to be 2,500 to 4,000 metres (8,200 to 13,120 feet) deep.

It roughly corresponds to the far end of a southern track the aircraft could have taken after investigators suspect it was deliberately diverted.

“It can be incredibly rough and difficult. It can be very windy with strong currents, though it can equally be calm,” said David Gallo, director of special projects at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Falmouth, Massachusetts, referring to the general area where the objects were seen.

Flight MH370’s disappearance has been compared to the 2009 Air France jet disaster, which puzzled investigators until a mission led by WHOI found the black boxes in 3,900 metres (12,800 feet) of water.

But whereas investigators knew roughly where Flight AF447 had hit the Atlantic Ocean on a stormy night in June 2009, search crews know much less about where the Malaysian jet ended up, including whether or where it ran out of fuel.

“If it is confirmed as debris, then the first priority is to recover and record each piece and see how high or low it is sitting in the water. This may help indicate how it has been moved by currents and winds,” said Gallo, who took part in the Air France search.

Debris could have moved

The immediate problem will be to find the debris, which may have moved since the satellite images were taken on March 16.

It could take several days to verify the satellite lead, a source close to the investigation said. Military aircraft from Australia, the United States and New Zealand have so far found nothing during a search hampered by strong winds and rain. Neither has a merchant ship in the area.

If the objects – the biggest measures up to 24 metres (79 feet) – are from the Boeing 777, recovery teams will work as quickly as possible to locate the rest of the wreckage in the hope it leads them to the data and cockpit voice recorders.

To do this, scientists have developed computer models to effectively play waves and winds backwards, allowing rescue workers to retrace the movements of debris to the site of a crash.

“There are sophisticated models that allow you to work backwards from the current position of each piece of debris, after considering the currents and the winds and so on,” said Gallo.

“That enables you to say X marks the spot on the surface.”

Investigators hope such recent developments in oceanography will help shed light on the baffling disappearance of Flight MH370.

But not all experts agree computer simulations will easily replace the gruelling routine of searching from the air and the sea.

Although research has continued since the Air France jet ploughed into the Atlantic, a detailed annex to the report on that disaster, which was blamed mainly on pilot error, raised questions in 2012 over the consistency of such “retro-drift” calculations.

For example, when the French Navy dropped special buoys at the same spot a year after the crash they scattered hundreds of miles apart, highlighting the turbulence of ocean currents.

Race against time

If the report of suspected debris is confirmed, naval vessels will also drag a sonar through the water to seek the black boxes through radio beacons, but time for this is running out.

The black boxes are designed to have a battery life of at least 30 days, leaving possibly only 17 days to locate them before the signals die.

But for every knot, or nautical mile per hour, of current in the rough waters of the southern Indian Ocean, an object could theoretically float for 312 miles (500 km) in 13 days, the time the Malaysian plane has been missing.

That could present investigators with a much larger potential search area than the 40-mile radius for AF447.

In 2012, France’s BEA air crash investigation agency recommended in its report on the Air France disaster that the battery life on locator beacons be increased to 90 days.

Although this has been backed by global regulators, it will not become mandatory until towards the end of the decade.

Other proposals that could potentially make it easier to find MH370 remain bogged down in talks between regulators and the aviation industry, with no timetable for putting them into effect, Reuters reported last week.

These include adding a new frequency for the beacons so that their signals travel further and can more easily be heard by military ships lacking specialist air crash recovery equipment.

Existing signals travel about 2,000 to 3,000 metres (6,560 to 9,840 feet) under water, according to the French sea search annex, whereas the area now being combed for debris is up to 4,000 metres deep.

To close this gap, search teams would bring in boats capable of carrying several miles of cables to drag sonars at lower depths, but experts note moving them into place can take time.

If by the end of 30 days nothing is found, the search could rely on remote underwater vehicles to scour the seabed.

To find the Air France wreckage, WHOI used remote-operated REMUS underwater vehicles developed by the U.S. Navy.

“It was the biggest use of deep-ocean firepower in one spot,” Gallo said.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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World

India sees record Covid-19 infections, oxygen shortages

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India sees record Covid-19 infections, oxygen shortages | Thaiger
PHOTO: India's Covid-19 infections spread while oxygen supplies dwindle.

India is experiencing record infections and deaths due to Covid-19 and is now running dangerously low on oxygen supplies. The countries second wave of the virus includes a dangerous virus variant that is spreading quickly and has infected 3.5 million people just this month. In the last 24 hours, 295,000 new infections occurred with just over 2,000 deaths. Prime minister Narendra Modi said that India was in for a big fight and that the second wave of Covid-19 came like a storm.

India had done relatively well during the first wave of the coronavirus for a country dense with 1.3 billion inhabitants. In the last few weeks though people have let their guard down with millions attending religious festivals cricket matches huge weddings, and political rallies around the country. This coinciding with delays and even stopping of production for Covid-19 vaccines and medication along with a lack of oxygen being generated in India is leading to new levels of crisis.

With oxygen supplies dwindling throughout India, relatives of Covid-19 patients are buying black-market oxygen supplies for hyper-inflated prices. Some hospitals are said to be down to their last few hours of oxygen supplies. The health minister of New Delhi is pleading with the government to focus on the oxygen supply chain in India before it devolves into a serious crisis.

Mumbai is the centre of this most recent surge and oxygen shortages there are no better. One doctor said in the event of an oxygen shortage they would usually just relocate patients to another hospital, but now no hospital has the needed surplus. The prime minister said that the government, federal and local, along with private enterprise are working to increase oxygen supplies in India.

New Delhi is in the middle of a week-long lockdown and several other Indian States are facing shut down this weekend. Several countries are cancelling flights or moving India to advisory lists, urging their citizens not to travel there. The United Kingdom and the United States have both flagged India as unsafe to travel, while New Zealand and Hong Kong have completely banned flights.

Vaccination has been hit or miss in India, with early criticism for exporting jobs produced there while so few had been administered locally. Now India has stopped exporting AstraZeneca vaccines, and more than 130 million jabs have been given though supplies have still been limited. Data is expected in the next few weeks about the effect of the Indian Covid-19 variant. As of now, India is second to only the US in total cases with 15.6 million infections and over 180,000 deaths.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Thailand launches Covid-19 vaccine passport for international travel

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Thailand launches Covid-19 vaccine passport for international travel | Thaiger
PHOTO: Marco Verch / Flickr

The Thai government has confirmed it is adopting a vaccine passport scheme, to provide vaccinated residents with proof of Covid-19 inoculation. The vaccine passport will be an official document which can be used by vaccinated people travelling abroad. Details of the scheme have now been published in the Royal Gazette, making it official.

The Bangkok Post reports that the Royal Gazette has also published the format of the vaccine passport, which has been approved by Opas Karnkawinpong from the Department of Disease Control. The cover contains text in English and Thai, which bears the department’s name and that of the Public Health Ministry. It carries the national emblem of Thailand, the garuda, and the wording, “Covid-19 Certificate of Vaccination”.

The vaccine passport also contains the owner’s name, as well as his or her national identification or passport number, and confirmation that the holder is vaccinated against Covid-19. It’s understood that only vaccines approved by Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration or by the World Health Organisation, will be recognised in the vaccine passport scheme.

In order to be valid, the vaccine passport must be signed by an approved disease control official. The Royal Gazette has published an order from the Department of Disease Control authorising 6 such officials to sign the document.

Each vaccine passport is for individual use only. Parents of children under the age of 7 will be required to sign their document for them, while people who cannot write will be required to provide a fingerprint.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Tourism

World’s most travel-friendly passport list – 2021

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World’s most travel-friendly passport list – 2021 | Thaiger
FILE PHOTO: Japan tops the list of most travel-friendly passports.

The Henley Passport Index, which rates which passports are the most travel-friendly, has just released the list for 2021, with Japan once again at the top of the list.

But the Index noted that this year’s international travel freedom comparison is mostly theoretical as the current Covid-19 situation continues to limit most international travel.

With a Japanese passport, travellers can enter 193 countries without a visa or with a visa-on-arrival. On the other end of the list, an Afghanistan passport can only get into 26 countries. The gap of 167 countries is the widest gap since the Henley Passport Index began tracking this data 15 years ago in 2006.

Singapore kept its second-place this year standing with just one less destination than Japan, followed by Germany and South Korea tied for 3rd place with 191 destinations. The rest of the top 10 are mainly European countries, with the exception of New Zealand and the US as part of the 5-way tie for 7th place with 187 destinations, and Australia and Canada tied for 9th place with 185 destinations.

The US and UK passports took a tumble, once tied for the most travel-friendly passport back in 2014, now losing ground slipping to 7th place. On the other hand, United Arab Emirates strengthened diplomatic ties worldwide and jumped 50 spots this year from 65th all the way to 15th. Over the decade, the climb is even more dramatic, with the Emirates exploding from 67 destinations 10 years ago up 107 destinations to 174 this year. China did well also, climbing 22 places since 2011, up to number 68 on the list.

Thailand’s passport is tied with Saudi Arabia at 66th with 79 destinations available without an advance visa.

The full list of most travel-friendly passports…
1. Japan (193 destinations)
2. Singapore (192)
3. Germany, South Korea (191)
4. Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain (190)
5. Austria, Denmark (189)
6. France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden (188)
7. Belgium, New Zealand, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States (187)
8. Czech Republic, Greece, Malta, Norway (186)
9. Australia, Canada (185)
10. Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia (183)

Henley and Partners predict that the spread in passport access will mirror Covid-19 affected travel. Rich and mobile regions like the US, UK, EU and UAE are getting access to vaccination, hastening their ability to travel, while poorer and developing economies are experiencing a much slower vaccine roll-out.

Experts from Syracuse University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the Migration Policy Centre predict this trend will continue with potentially devastating long-term effects.

Countries that can afford and facilitate vaccination for their citizens quickly will be able to welcome travellers in for tourism and business and be able to travel more themselves. Conversely, countries that can’t afford the storage and distribution of vaccines will be less able to travel or welcome tourism income, widening a global wealth gap.

Remote working and the digital nomad lifestyle has been booming in recent years and with Covid-19 forcing businesses to adapt to telecommuting, the post-pandemic world will see more remote working, and countries falling behind with vaccinations will suffer the long-term loss in tourism dollars too.

SOURCE: CNN

World's most travel-friendly passport list - 2021 | News by Thaiger

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