Philippines government praises INTERPOL’s and ICMP’s exemplary support in ferry disaster victim identification

Article posted on February 5, 2009

Representatives of INTERPOL, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), Philippines law enforcement authorities, local and national government authorities attend the ceremony in Cebu.The efforts of INTERPOL, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), Philippines law enforcement authorities, local and national government authorities as well as the wider international community in identifying the victims of Typhoon Frank have proved an outstanding example of international co-operation, said Philippines Secretary of Defense Gilbert Teodoro.

At an official ceremony in Cebu City to mark the handover of the process of victim identification from the ferry disaster of June 21, 2008, the work of the INTERPOL Incident Response Team (IRT) and the ICMP was also recognised by a Presidential Citation for the services rendered to the Philippines for their role in helping the national law enforcement authorities to identify hundreds of victims of Typhoon Frank.

“What we saw here in the City of Cebu today is a successful exercise in both intra and extra cooperation among nations, a poignant example of people working together regardless of race, colour or creed.”

The handover ceremony, which was attended by INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble, Ms Kathryne Bomberger, Director-General of the ICMP, and leading Cebu City officials, also included the presentation to the Philippines National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director Nestor Mantaring of the mobile mortuary facility donated by INTERPOL which has been used throughout the identification process.

Since the launch of the DNA-assisted identification process by the Philippines NBI Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) unit seven months ago, INTERPOL, ICMP and the NBI’s specialist teams deployed to Cebu City have collected nearly 2,200 reference blood samples from family members, resulting in the identification of 367 victims and the return of their remains to their relatives and loved ones. The DNA matches were made by specialists at the ICMP laboratory in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina which has extensive expertise in large-scale victim identification

INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble said that the organization’s main purpose in providing support to the Philippine authorities was to ensure the accurate and dignified identification of the victims, and that this objective had been achieved.

“We promised that INTERPOL would remain until the last victim who could be identified, had been identified, and we continue to honour that promise,” said Secretary General Noble.

“We at INTERPOL knew from our experience that this type of tragedy could not be dealt with by any one country alone, and the Philippine authorities, and particularly the NBI, the Philippine national police and INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau in Manila, should be commended for their willingness to accept assistance from the international community which has resulted in the identification of hundreds of victims who would otherwise never have been identified.”

The ceremony in Cebu City is not an end to INTERPOL’s or the ICMP’s support of the massive DVI effort, but instead marks a transfer of leadership from the international community to the very able Philippines National Bureau of Investigation.

“The International Commission on Missing Persons is honoured to have been able to assist the government and people of the Philippines in dealing with the tragic aftermath of Typhoon Frank,” said ICMP Director-General Ms Kathryne Bomberger.

“We thank INTERPOL for requesting our assistance, and are pleased that our use of DNA identity testing, which is the most advanced methodology for accurately identifying missing persons, was able to assist families of this tragic event in finding their loved ones.  We at the ICMP were honoured to be able to use our sophisticated equipment and the experience of our personnel to help ensure that victims of the typhoon disaster are identified as accurately and quickly as humanly possible. The success of our task in ensuring the accurate identification of the victims is basically a community effort, a world effort.”

ICMP experts last worked with INTERPOL teams during the co-ordinated major forensic identification of victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami which killed thousands of people. A co-operation agreement was subsequently signed in November 2007 between the two organizations to ensure co-operation in future disaster victim identification efforts.