PHUKET, Thailand – INTERPOL will continue to send rotating teams to support the Thai Tsunami Victim Identification Information Management Centre (TTVI-IMC) when it relocates to the Royal Thai Police Headquarters in Bangkok almost one year after the devastating tsunami.
Nearly 3,000 victims of the 3,750 recorded by the TTVI-IMC have been identified during the past year. INTERPOL has played a key role in co-ordinating the international victim identification effort and in providing logistical and communications support to the centre.
The centre, staffed by INTERPOL, Thai authorities and international disaster victim identification (DVI) teams, will re-open on 4 January 2006, marking a new phase of the operation, from temporary sites in resort areas where thousands of Thais and foreigners were killed to a permanent facility in the capital city.
During the past 12 months, more than 2,000 personnel from 31 nations have been involved in the identification process, collecting DNA samples, conducting forensic analysis, logging data and helping with the repatriation of tsunami victims’ remains.
‘No one country could have responded to the tsunami disaster on its own, and Thailand is extremely grateful for the support which has been given by so many countries,’ said Head of the International DVI Command Structure in Thailand, General Ajiravid Subarnbhesaj.
‘Before the tsunami, there was no DVI expertise in Thailand, and the skills that our officers have developed during the past 12 months means that we can now also offer our assistance in any future international incidents.’
The massive identification effort is being funded by the Thai authorities in addition to significant donations from several countries, and a permanent fund has been established to support the centre’s activities in the future.
Specialised assistance has also been given by laboratories in China, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Thailand, as well as the International Commission for Missing Persons in Sarajevo, which has developed expertise in obtaining DNA from a variety of samples.
‘That more than 80 per cent of the victims have already been identified is testimony to the dedication and hard work of everyone involved in this operation. We are aware that this process is not just about numbers and that we are dealing with someone’s loved one, and we will continue in our efforts to ensure the remaining victims are identified as soon as possible,’ said IMC Commander Superintendent Derek Forest.
Of the identifications so far, approximately 45 per cent were made via dental records, 35 per cent by fingerprints and the remaining 20 per cent by DNA. The number of DNA identifications is expected to rise significantly during the final stages of the process.
As part of the ongoing identification and repatriation process, remains currently being held at Mail Khao Cemetery are to be transferred to the Thai Tsunami Repatriation Centre at Bang Maruan, where current final examination and release procedures will continue.
The vast majority of these remains are those of Thai nationals. The Bang Maruan cemetery is in a more central location for families to visit and has facilities for people of various faiths to fulfill any spiritual obligations.
INTERPOL’s response to the disaster was set in motion on the morning of the tsunami, 26 December 2004, when its 24-hour-a-day Command and Co-ordination Centre immediately contacted the affected countries to offer assistance. INTERPOL also informed its network of international DVI teams and deployed an incident response team (IRT) to Thailand to begin co-ordination and data management efforts on the ground.
The organization also created an international Crisis Support Group at the INTERPOL General Secretariat in Lyon, France, with start-up assistance from the United Kingdom, to help Thai authorities manage the consequences of the disaster and prepare a framework for future mass-casualty incidents.