PHOTO: Richard Harris and Craig Challen along with Australian PM Scott Morrison
Cave rescue divers Dr. Richard Harris and Craig Challen have been jointly named Australian of the Year for their heroic efforts helping to save 13 young footballers from a flooded cave in Chiang Rai.
In July 2018, Adelaide anaesthetist Dr Harris and retired vet Dr Challen, from Perth, made worldwide headlines when they joined an international team to rescue the 12 boys and their soccer coach from the flooded Tham Luang caves.
It is the first time the Australia Day Council has bestowed the honour on two state or territory finalists at once, reflecting the extraordinary achievement of the long-time friends and diving buddies.
Danielle Roche, chair of the National Australia Day Council, praised the pair for their “selflessness, courage and willingness to help others in a time of need”.
“Richard Harris and Craig Challen led a heroic rescue under the spotlight of the world’s media. They placed the safety of others above their own and inspired hope when hope seemed lost,” Ms Roche said, adding that the divers’ decision to risk their lives “typifies the Australian spirit”.
Before learning he had won the top honour, Dr Harris said being recognised as a finalist was “a completely unexpected result” from what had seemed at the time to be “just doing a job”.
“We felt very privileged to be involved in such a massive undertaking, but it just felt like we were doing the stuff we were trained to do,” he said.
SOURCE: The Sydney Morning Herald
Golden Triangle drug labs increase shipments 1000% – Speed and Ice pouring over the border
The number of seizures of high-purity crystal methamphetamine are surging into northern Thailand. The demand rises and the methods of detection and enforcement also improve. It’s a vicious circle.
Authorities say the number of drug seizures have risen 1000% in just the past 2 years, a stark indication of the growth in industrial-scale production in neighboring Myanmar.
Some 18.4 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine or ‘ice’, was seized in Thailand last year, according to preliminary statistics from the Thai Office of the Narcotics Control Board. They know it’s a tiny proportion of the amounts produced and shipped out undetected.
That figure is up from 5.2 tonnes in 2017 and 1.6 tonnes in 2016. It’s more than three times the amount captured across all of Southeast Asia five years ago – a staggering rise in production and distribution.
Thailand remains a major trafficking route for the artificial drug manufactured in Myanmar’s Shan and Kachin states – the north-eastern states of Myanmar that border China, Laos and Thailand.
Police say organised crime groups work with local pro-government militias and armed rebels to set-up “super labs” and allow transport through the regions to borders beyond.
The same mega-labs are also pumping out ‘cocktail’ tablets of methamphetamine, mixed with caffeine and other ‘fillers’. The drug is nicknamed ‘yaba’ in Thailand. Specialist chemists and ‘cooks’ are brought in from Taiwan and China to run the meth labs in Myanmar, while the ingredients and lab equipment mostly come from China.
The methamphetamine tablets are a low-grade recreational drug, inexpensive and popular with blue-collar workers and low-end recreational drug users across South East Asia. The price for a ‘yaba’ pill has plummeted from around 200 baht to 80 baht in the past five years.
But the Golden Triangle, bordering north-eastern Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, has a long history of illicit drug trafficking.
It came to the West’s notice as a cultivation hub for opium and heroin refining but those, now, easily detected crops are being replaced with methamphetamine production. The factories are easily hidden underneath the jungle canopy, and with the assistance of ‘co-operative’ local authorities, armed gangs and state-sponsored militias, the precursor drugs and final product move in and out with little trouble.
Once the drugs have made their way through Thailand the drug syndicates use “motherships” that intercept the drugs off the Andaman coast and distribute them to other parts of South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand.
Whilst the growth in production and purity of the drugs is alarming authorities, they are also intercepting and detecting a lot more of the road shipments making their way across the Thai borders. But they readily admit they are only netting a tiny part of the larger iceberg.
Despite the frequent showcasing of large drug hauls by Thai police, the vast majority of the drugs coming out of the back-doors of Myanmar’s meth labs are getting through undetected.
Tham Luang caves closing for retrieval of all rescue equipment
Chiang Rai’s Tham Luang caves, the scene of the international cave rescue last July, will close to all visitors from February 19 to allow Thai Navy SEALs to enter and recover equipment left in the cave after the rescue mission.
The mission, which captured the attention of media around the world and changed the young men’s lives forever, extracted 13 members of the local Mu Pa youth football team who became trapped by flooding last July when they headed there for a post-training one hour excursion.
Mr. Kavee Prasomphol, chief of the Tham Luang-Khunnam Nangnon national park in Mae Sai district, says the closure of the cave would also allow naval officers to document the scene inside the cave. The areas surrounding the cave remain open to the public.
On January 17, 2019, a SEAL team and rescue workers, including British cave diver Vernon Unsworth and park officials, inspected the cave’s interior and found a large quantity of abandoned oxygen tanks, pumps and other equipment.
They entered the cave system only as far as the third chamber, but have not yet reached the location where the footballers took refuge for more than two weeks.
Enjoy The Thaiger’s dedication to the rescuers and volunteers who found and retrieved the football team…
Missing Chiang Rai mother found safe in Kunming after 8 months
A missing 59 year old Thai woman, reportedly suffering from Alzheimers, has been found in Kunming, China’s Yunnan province, about 700 kilometres from her home in Thailand.
She was reported missing from the northern province of Chiang Rai eight months ago.
Kunming police found the woman, Kaewmanee Arjor, walking alone on a highway and alerted Thai officials in the Chinese city.
Kaewmanee’s daughter, Suchada, was accompanied by Chiang Rai officials, and flew to Kunming to be reunited with her mother yesterday. They are expected to be back to Chiang Rai today.
Initial questioning of Mrs. Kaewmanee indicates that she walked from her home in Chiang Rai to Kunming. It is not currently known how she survived but she appears to be healthy and could communicate with her daughter but was unable to offer details of her journey.
The Chinese police, who arranged accommodation for Mrs. Kaewmanee while Thai officials arranged her repatriation, were thanked by the family and Thai police.
The family say they were impressed with the kindness shown by the Chinese police and the humanity of the Thai immigration police in paying for the return of their mother.
STORY: Thai PBS
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