News & Current Affairs

September 12, 2008

Disruption continuing over tunnel

Disruption continuing over tunnel

Misery is set to continue for thousands of Eurostar passengers with services unlikely to resume on Friday.

The Channel Tunnel is closed after a fire broke out on a freight train about seven miles from Calais. Fire fighters are still tackling the blaze.

Thirty-two people on board were led to safety. Fourteen had suffered minor injuries, including smoke inhalation.

The operator said in a statement it “did not expect” to operate any services on Friday.

The fire broke out on a UK-bound lorry aboard the shuttle train at about 1400 GMT on Thursday, around 11km (7 miles) from the French entrance, the operator Eurotunnel said.

Map

The French Interior Ministry said the lorry, which is understood to have overturned on the train, was carrying the chemical phenol, a toxic product used by the pharmaceutical industry.

At 11.40pm on Thursday fire crews were still working to put out the fire, but the situation was said to be under control.

Chief Fire Officer Bill Feeley of Kent Fire and Rescue Service said about 100 of his firefighters were tackling the blaze.

“The fire itself, because it’s in a tunnel, it’s in a confined space, produces a lot of smoke and a lot of heat for our firefighters to contend with.

“We’re working from one end as the French fire service works from the other, and I know they’ve been in audible contact, so that’s how close they are.”

A train was sent to collect the people from the service tunnel and take them back to France.

The Foreign Office said seven of those evacuated from the tunnel were British.

The French state train company SNCF said its services would not resume until Friday.

The tunnel carries Eurostar express trains between London, Paris and Brussels, as well as freight and passenger shuttles between Folkestone and Calais.

Travel chaos

Traffic built up at the British end of the tunnel, with queues of lorries and cars tailing from the Eurotunnel terminal at Folkestone.

Kent police have closed junctions eight to nine of the coastbound section of the M20 and sections of the motorway have been used to queue lorries as part of Operation Stack.

The Highways Agency has told motorists to expect delays of up to an hour on the M20.

Motorists at the Channel Tunnel entrance were being given vouchers by staff to board ferries at Dover.

Some of the stranded passengers said Eurostar has agreed to reimburse them for their stays overnight in London.

A spokesman said anyone who had been unable to use the tickets because of the fire would be given as much help as possible with continuing their journey.

Eurolines, which is part of National Express, said it had capacity to take Eurostar passengers to Paris and Brussels by coach, via cross-Channel ferry services.

The Channel Tunnel has suffered several incidents since it opened to traffic in 1994 although only one – a fire in 1996 – caused serious injuries.

In August 2006, 34 people had to be led to safety after a fire broke out on a lorry being carried on a freight train.

The fire caused £200m worth of damage burned for over five hours, wrecking the concrete lining and facilities over about half a mile of tunnel.

Security exercises are staged in the Channel Tunnel by police, fire and ambulance services from both England and France to ensure preparedness for such incidents.

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Have you been affected by this incident? Were you due to travel through the Channel Tunnel today? Send us your comments and experiences

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August 30, 2008

Manila ferry blast suspect held

Manila ferry blast suspect held

Superferry 14 on fire in Manila Bay in February 2004

The 10,000-tonne Superferry 14 was heading for Bacolod

A leading suspect wanted over the Philippines’ worst militant attack has been arrested in Bahrain and returned to Manila, officials have said.

Ruben Pestano Lavilla Jr, 35, is wanted for alleged involvement in the bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 that led to 116 deaths in a subsequent fire.

He was the “brains” behind an Islamic group allied to two al-Qaeda affiliated organizations, Manila officials say.

They say he was detected after document checks by Manila’s embassy in Bahrain.

The arrest had not been made public while Philippine officials prepared deportation papers.

‘Fled’ country

Marcelino Libanan, head of the immigration commission, told Reuters news agency that Mr Lavilla was checked after trying to get a bank loan and had been working as an interpreter at the Philippine embassy.

However, Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor told the AP agency that the arrest came after Mr Lavilla submitted documents for a job at the embassy.

Mr Lavilla is alleged to have fled the Philippines a month after the ferry attack.

He is accused of being the mastermind behind the Rajah Solaiman Movement, blamed for several bomb attacks in Manila in 2004 and 2005.

The movement is said to be linked to the Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf Muslim militant groups, based in the southern Philippines.

Mr Blancaflor said: “If you are a terrorist, wherever you are, wherever you hide, the law will catch up with you – that’s the most important thing here.”

The ferry blaze was South East Asia’s second-worst militant attack after the 2002 bombings in Bali, Indonesia, that killed 202 people.

The 10,000-tonne Superferry 14 was heading for Bacolod in the central Philippines when it caught fire on 27 February 2004.

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