Investigators in Australia and Malaysia are expected to soon announce the results of their probes of ‘possible MH370 parts’ found off Mozambique – but already serious doubts are being raised by aviation and ocean experts.
If the parts – strongly believed soon after the announcement of their discoveries to be from the missing jet – are proved to be unconnected, then a new and disturbing scenario arises: trickery has been afoot.
In particular a large piece presumed to be part of a Boeing 777 flap fairing and bearing a stencilled code 676EB, which is stamped on that model of plane, would cast serious doubts on the MH370 investigation should it be found to be too clean to have been in the water for two years.
And already respected aviation writer Jeff Wise and marine biologists he has spoken to are suggesting today that the part found off Mozambique in February by US lawyer Blaine Gibson and the larger piece discovered by South African teenager earlier this month, also off Mozambique, could not be from MH370 because they lack evidence of long-term immersion in sea water.
In fact Mr Wise now concludes that ‘it is entirely possible that one or both of the Mozambique objects were never in then ocean at all.’
And he insists that it is incumbent on all the relevant authorities ‘to make public the details of a close examination of the parts in order to determine how these objects could have arrived in the western Indian Ocean.’
With a third piece recently discovered on Reunion being discounted as having come from the missing jet, it is now appearing that the only aircraft part that has been confirmed as being part of the plane – although a 100 per cent final confirmation is still being awaited – is a barnacle-covered flaperon found on Reunion in July last year.
As MH370 was the only Boeing 777 to be lost in the Indian Ocean region – ever – there appeared little doubt that the part found by South African Liam Lotter, with its Boeing identifying stamp, had to be from the missing jet.
But why is it so clean? No sand particles, no barnacles, no algae, no evidence of any sea life or growth whatsoever.
It has been suggested that Mr Lotter might have cleaned the part up, but biologists said there are too many tiny parts in the honeycomb linings for it to be so exceptionally clean. And a poster on Mr Wise’s blog says he has asked Mr Lotter if he had washed the piece and he replied: ‘No I didn’t clean it at all.’
Mr Wise points out that during a survey of debris in the Pacific, marine biologist Miriam Goldstein collected 242 objects and found that all of them had organisms growing on them, apart from two that were just one inch square.
Another biologist, Mike Gil from the University of Florida, also carried out a similar survey in the eastern Pacific and apart from minute objects ‘we didn’t find any clean debris.’
Photos of the Reunion flaperon and the Mozambique pieces show an extreme contrast, with the flaperon being covered in barnacles and the Mozambique parts displaying only clean surfaces.
Mr Wise, a former pilot, says that a comparison of the size of barnacles found on a boat that had spent eight months drifting from Australia to the western Indian Ocean island of Mayotte and the barnacle size on the flaperon suggests that the wing part had been in the water for between four and six months.
Another ocean expert spoken to by Mr Wise has also cast serious doubts on the length of time the pieces found by Mr Gibson and Mr Lotter could have been in the water.
Sam Chan, who studies invasive sea species at Oregon State University, estimated the amount of time the objects had been in the water ‘could be a couple of weeks. It’s certainly not indicative of something that has been in the water for multiple years, let alone even half a year.
‘If there’s no fouling, was it even in the water?’
Mr Wise’s findings on his latest blog has resulted in a flood of writers adding their doubts about the pieces found off Mozambique.
One writer, Ed Metcalfe, said that while he is not a conspiracy fan ‘this situation smacks of human intervention regarding the distribution of the debris.’
Another poster said that ‘it would seem there are few ways to explain the absence of biofouling that do not suggest some sort of human intervention.’
Only time will tell what the next step will be in this baffling aviation mystery.
With a colleague in the Marshall Islands, I’ve listened to new stories that suggest she was captured by Japanese troops when her Electra plane crashed on a remote atoll in the build up to the second world war – then taken to Saipan island where she died.
Heard it all before?
I’d heard various accounts about the couple’s fate, some of which sounds credible, other reasonings, well, not so reasonable.
The long-held theory is that she simply ran out of fuel in bad weather while trying to fly to Howland island and crashed on the uninhabited Gardner Island, now known as Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati.
But descendants of islanders living on Mili atoll, in the Marshall Islands hundreds of miles from her previously held crash site, insist they have learned of an alternative fate.
Descendants and friends of ‘eye witnesses’ claim to have seen Amelia and Noonan on a Japanese tramp steamer after their plane came down on a tiny uninhabited island attached to Mili atoll.
The aircraft, with a wing missing, was loaded onto a barge, which then hauled it onto the Koshu Naru ship, where Amelia and Noonan were being held. A friend of the late Bilimon Amram has recalled how his pal told of helping a Japanese doctor to treat Noonan’s injured leg.
That friend, Charles Domnick, told my colleague Karen Earnshaw, that Amelia and Noonan were sitting on the deck of the Japanese ship as Noonan waited for medical attention.
Bilimon Amran has since died, but his friend Charles recalled how Bilimon insisted that he had seen Amelia on the vessel.
‘I know what I saw – and I saw the lady,’ Bilimon is said to have told his friend.
According to other research, the two fliers were taken to Saipan, south of Japan, where, suspected of being spies as the second world war was brewing, Noonan was executed and Amelia died of dysentery.
Believable or not, this new account adds to the intrigue about the couple’s fate that has flowed on down through the decades.
Currently, researchers in the United States are examining pieces of metal found on Mili atoll to try to establish if any of the parts are from Amelia’s Electra aircraft.
If any of the pieces are confirmed as being from the plane, then the discovery will certainly add credence to the claims that they were captured by the Japanese.
Of course, it has to be wondered why the Japanese haven’t by now owned up to the couple being captured. Then again, would they want it known that they were responsible for a US hero’s demise?
The 58-year-old Cheltenham grandmother, who was sentenced to death for attempting to smuggle 10.6lb of cocaine worth £1.6 million onto the holiday island on May 19 2012, is pinning her hopes on a new appeal being allowed on ‘new evidence’.
But her Indonesian lawyer, Mr Chris Harno, said: ‘I am not able to reveal what the fresh evidence is, but we are hopeful this will result in a lesser sentence.
‘Lindsay is holding up but it is not happy thing to know that you are in line to be executed. She is a victim in all this.’
The appeal is expected to include reports of an ‘affair’ between another member of the drug-running syndicate and a British diplomat, which she feared could harm her own case.
Mrs Sandiford, who has previously said she would rather be shot sooner than just wait in her cell in Kerobokan prison for months or years, announced earlier this year that she now believed she would be among the next group of prisoners to be gunned down.
Her comments came after seven convicted drug smugglers – including two Australians – were shot last month, after President Joko Widodo refused to grant them a last minute reprieve, despite pleas from their governments.
There had been earlier speculation that a reported ‘affair’ between one of Mrs Sandiford’s co-accused – Briton Julian Ponder – and British diplomat Alys Harahap when they met in Kerobokan prison would have a detrimental effect on Mrs Sandiford’s ‘care’ by the British Embassy officials.
Ponder is known to hate Mrs Sandiford for helping police in a sting to arrest him and his then-partner Rachel Dougall.
Mrs Sandiford had told police that the cocaine she was carrying in a suitcase on a flight from Bangkok was destined for a syndicate of which Ponder was described as being the Mr Big.
Mrs Sandiford has told friends that she believes his reported relationship with Ms Harahap, a married mother of two, could harm her own legal battle, with Embassy sympathies being extended closer to Ponder because of his reported friendship with the diplomat.
Mr Harno is expected to add the extensive co-operation Mrs Sandiford has given to police to the grounds for the new appeal, although this has been raised before at an earlier court and been rejected.
Such is Mrs Sandiford’s dismay at hearing of a relationship between Ms Harahap – who has since been dismissed from her post – and Ponder that she has been refusing assistance from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
A spokesman for the FCO confirmed to the BBC last week that ‘Lindsay Sandiford is currently refusing consular assistance but we stand ready to visit her in prison if she changes her mind.
‘It is the long-standing policy of the UK to oppose the death penalty in all circumstances. We have made representations to the Indonesian government on this matter repeatedly and at the highest levels and will continue to do so.’
Mrs Sandiford’s British lawyer, Craig Tuck, told the BBC that the trials and appeals process involving her had been a ‘train wreck to some extent.’
What will be Mrs Sandiford’s final appeal will have ‘strong grounds’ for her acquittal, he said, based on the fact that she was a vulnerable drugs mule – and Indonesian law made allowances for people described as ‘trafficked persons’ to be acquitted.
‘Lindsay is a vulnerable person, she’s had mental health issues, she’s had all sorts of personal factors and features which are relevant to the case that need to be put into the mix of what exploitation occurred.’
He said that the laws of Indonesia say that if someone is a ‘trafficked person’, they must be acquitted.
‘On that basis, that defence has never been run and needed to be looked at and we’re making sure we get that position solid.’
While giving a this clue as to what the ‘mystery’ new evidence is, it is believed the relationship between Ponder and the British diplomat will also be presented to the Denpasar High Court at a date to be arranged following today’s filing of the papers.
Campaigners in the UK have also alluded to Ponder’s friendship with Ms Harahap, insisting that it was he who coerced Mrs Sandiford into smuggling drugs.
Mr Tuck described the appeal as having one of the strongest grounds he had seen in decades.
The President of Indonesia has dramatically stepped into the international row over conditions at the ‘world’s cruellest zoo’, following my story in the Daily Mail about the horrors there.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono called for ‘a solution to avoid more animal deaths,’ after learning of the outrage following details of scores dying uneccesary at the Surabaya Zoo and other creatures living in miserable, cramped and sometimes painful conditions.
During a top-level meeting with two important Ministers, the East Java Gorneror and the Lady Mayor of Surabaya, President Yudhoyono made it clear that now that he had been made aware of the conditions at Indonesia’s oldest zoo and the world’s concerns immediate action was needed.
He told the meeting that he had received many reports from the public about the poor conditions.
‘They reminded me that the deaths in Surabaya Zoo had become the focus of the international community and feared that such an issue would give outsiders the impression that we don’t care about our zoos,’ he said.
Turning to those at the meeting – East Java Governor Soekarwo, Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya, Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan and the Lady Mayor of Surabaya Tri Rismaharini – the President said: ‘Let’s find the best solution and when it has been formulated explain it to the public.
‘Of course, we will not forget the events that have occurred. There is always a way out or a solution.’
Hundreds of thousands of people around the world signed petitions demanding that the zoo either be closed down or the animals moved to other enclosures in the country in the wake of my revelations and those of other concerned animal rights groups – far too many to mention here.
Many other people have offered to donate money to help pay for the zoo to be rebuilt – but the Mayor objected to outside interference and insisted that the current structure should remain because the zoo, opened by Dutch colonialists in 1916, was part of Indonesia’s heritage in its current state.
But when I visited the zoo at the end of November it was clear that the conditions of nearly a century ago did not belong in a modern world – if they even belonged at the time the zoo opened.
More than 50 animals died there in the last three months of last year – and tragically more have followed this month.
I found a baby elephant shackled by three legs, one of which was rubbed raw by the chain, scores of pelicans crammed into a cage that made it difficuilt to lift their wings, grim concrete enclosures with no grass and not a keeper in sight.
This was because many had left the animals alone so they could head off to attend small shops they were running, but the Mayor has also admitted recently that several rare animals have been stolen by workers who have sold them to purchase cars or motor bikes.
In recent weeks it is known that three animals have died – a wildebeest, a mountain goat found with suspicious marks around its neck and a young African lion found hanging from cables in its cage.
As a first step in getting something done about the zoo’s deplorable conditions, the Indonesian government, at the behest of the President, now says it will officially hand full authority of the zoo to the Mayor who has been charged with ensuring substantial changes in its operation and treatment of animals.
‘This definitive licence will be given to the Mayor this week,’ Forestry Minister Zulkifli told the Jakarta Globe.
While the Mayor has been accused of being a stumbling block to improvements, she now accuses the previous caretaker team of doing little to stanch the spate of animal deaths. Not only that – she has continued to deny that my findings were accurate and even dared to insist, yet again, that photographs taken by my colleague Andrew Chant were a year old. The data on his camera card will show that they were all taken at the end of November – and I have hotel bills to prove that I was in Surabaya at the time. It’s a shame that the Mayor is playing the defensive game instead of just accepting that conditions at the zoo are shocking and that she should have done something about it a long time ago, rather than wait for the President to step in.
The former management team will now be replaced with new individuals who care for animals, said Mr Zulkifli.
‘They will oversee the maintenance of animal pens and their food, among other things. There will also be an audit in a partnership between the Mayor and Airlangga University on the issue of animal overpopulation.’
He told the Globe that if an examination found the zoo had more animals than it could adequately care for, the government would transfer some animals to other zoos and conservation facilities.
However, Governor Soekarwo admitted that improvements would take time.
‘This is no magic trick,’ he said. ‘It’s a long process. ‘But I hope the zoo’s new management will be able to provide a better environment for the animals.’
In a few days Sybelle Foxcroft of cee4life, a fighting Australian animal care organisation will be travelling to Surabaya to add to the pressure to get something done – and quickly. We wish her good fortune.
Since my last blog about the ‘World’s Cruellest Zoo’ emails have continued to arrive from concerned people around the world asking what can be done to improve conditions for the animals.
What is gratifying is that an Indonesian website, Jakarta Globe, has now taken up the cause with a large article this week.
The Jakarta Globe’s article acknowledges the difficulties in fighting red tape – as I have previously pointed out – but this is a further voice in the chorus begging, pleading, the local authorities to get something done.
As I’ve already pointed out, simply closing the zoo down isn’t going to help the animals because no other zoo will take them, amid fears that their lack of care might have led to them being diseased.
An emaciated tiger was rescued and moved to another location months ago, but there are, of course, many other animals who have had to be left behind.
A relevant passage from the Jakarta Globe reads as follows and I congratulate them for their follow-up:
“[The Surabaya Zoo case] has been going on for five years. Everybody knows about it, but nothing’s changing,” said Femke den Haas, the founder of Jakarta Animal Aid Network, a local nonprofit dedicated to animal conservation.
In 2010, after an overhaul by the Forestry Ministry, management of the zoo was assigned to the Surabaya City Administration, but active management only started in July 2013.
The city plans to improve the zoo over three years. It has allocated Rp 60 billion ($4.9 million) to the zoo’s management over the next five years, according to a report by Republika.
In response to the Daily Mail’s report, Tri Rismaharini, the mayor of Surabaya, told local media last year that the zoo was improving.
A team from the University of Airlangga last year audited the zoo’s finances and animal inventory. According to Amelia, an officer from the economy and development division of the Surabaya City Administration, their report is now complete.
“Currently, we’re just waiting to present it to the mayor,” Amelia said last Tuesday.
The city had allocated Rp 5 billion for the zoo improvements as of last August.
“[This] is a classic example of what thousands of people already know and what conservation organizations have tried to aid with over the last years,” said Sybelle Foxcroft, the director of Conservation Environmental Education 4 Life (Cee4life) in an email last Thursday.
Cee4life is one of the conservation organizations who has offered aid to the Surabaya Zoo.
The organization assisted in moving a malnourished female tiger called Melani from the Surabaya Zoo to Taman Safari in Bogor.
“Cee4life has been supporting the care of Melani in Taman Safari and she is so much better now than we she was inside Surabaya,” Foxcroft said.
Foxcroft also travelled to Surabaya to meet the mayor last year. The mayor was unavailable at the time, but Foxcroft left a letter with an offer to help.
In her reply to Foxcroft, the mayor thanked Foxcroft for her sympathy, but gave little to no comment about Foxcroft’s offer.
“The mayor has been offered an enormous amount of aid from animal welfare organizations around the world, including Cee4life. However, she has refused all aid,” Foxcroft said.
“It is clearly obvious that numerous animals are dying under horrendous conditions at the zoo, but the mayor continues to ignore it all and pretend that nothing is happening. It is a shocking thing for the world to see.”
The Indonesian Zoo and Aquarium Association, known as PKBSI, said the problems in Surabaya Zoo didn’t just stem from a lack of expertise, but also politics.
“[We] acknowledge what’s going on with the Surabaya Zoo. Our organization has attempted and achieved several changes in improving animal welfare at the zoo, as well as its infrastructure and human resources, but with the mayor of Surabaya’s lack of understanding in conservation or zoo management — and influenced by a private staff that used to work at the zoo — the Surabaya Zoo case became even more complicated,” said Susi Lawati, PKBSI’s secretary in an email last Friday.
PKBSI is a nonprofit organization appointed by the Forestry Ministry in zoo accreditation and monitoring.