British rescue teams arrive 'too late' to help in Sumatra

Official emergency teams did not reach devastated island until three days after the earthquake

A new system for organising Britain's official high-speed response to international emergencies failed to get a team of rescuers to help people trapped by the Indonesian earthquake until more than three days after the first tremors, it emerged yesterday.

A team of rescuers put together by the British Government to help was due on the island of Sumatra last night, three days after a huge quake brought down hundreds of buildings – and hours after British volunteers already on the ground claimed there was no one left to save.

A team of 65 UK firefighters – being paid at a rate of time and a half by the taxpayer – plus humanitarian experts was delayed by 24 hours and plunged into a desperate struggle to find a new aircraft after their original plane developed a technical fault on Friday. The official team, put together by the Fire and Rescue Services (FRS) and the Department for International Development (DfID), eventually left from RAF Brize Norton after they were allocated a C17 military transport aircraft. The team was due to arrive late last night, but there were reports they would be told they would not be needed.

But expert rescue teams from at least two British volunteer organisations – warning that speed is of the essence in earthquake rescue work, and having set out 18 hours earlier – had already been in the disaster zone for almost two days, having had to travel there independently of the Government. The organisations claimed they had been "cold-shouldered" by the British authorities under a new system which gave fire chiefs responsibility for organising the UK's official response to overseas emergencies.

Earlier this year, The Independent on Sunday revealed that Britain's volunteer lifesavers feared the secret deal could jeopardise the lives of thousands of people in disaster zones around the world. Critics yesterday claimed the confusion over the Sumatran rescue mission reinforced complaints about the long-term impact of the new arrangements. One veteran of many earthquakes said: "This was a textbook version of how not to do earthquake rescue." Others were more diplomatic. "We had been told to expect a call from DfID to find out how we could help the official rescue effort," said Julie Ryan of the International Rescue Corps, which has experience of helping in disaster zones around the world. "We didn't hear anything from them, so we made our own arrangements. It's quite sad that they didn't try to get us involved."

Graham Payne of Rapid-UK, which sent a rescue team to Padang on Friday, said his organisation had not been asked to be part of the official UK effort.

"They haven't phoned up and we have done it independently," Mr Payne said. "I think we have been cold-shouldered."

John Holland, who headed the Rapid-UK team in Padang, said yesterday that there were enough rescue workers in the disaster zone, and he believed there were no more survivors to be pulled from the hundreds of collapsed buildings in the area. "We are trying to discourage more teams from coming in as they are clogging up the airport, preventing longer-term relief from coming in," said Mr Holland. "It is at this stage that we, as rescue specialists, tend to move out to allow the recovery stage and the longer-term work to take place. What is needed now is to get aid in, not more rescue teams."

The International Development Secretary, Douglas Alexander, said earlier this year that the changes to the rescue set-up aimed to establish "a more efficient and workable arrangement" for providing help in overseas emergencies. He said the decision to go above the charities' heads was taken as "they were finding it difficult to co-operate and reach agreement" – a claim the groups furiously denied.

A DfID spokesman yesterday said that the emergency response system was revamped last year in order to "draw on the expertise of the Fire and Rescue Service and the voluntary sector quickly and effectively during humanitarian crises".

He added: "It was decided that the UK Fire and Rescue Service should take responsibility for organising the Government's overseas search-and-rescue responsibilities following extensive discussions between the department and voluntary organisations.

"Under the arrangement, the Fire and Rescue Service can work directly with voluntary groups and has the option of asking them to deploy support for operations if required."

The shadow International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, said: "Our sole concern at the moment must be to get help to the people who need it. But when the dust has settled, we must look again at the UK's procedures for co-ordinating and managing disaster responses to ensure that the energy and resources of leading disaster response NGOs are backed up by effective co-ordination and direction from Whitehall."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvGame of Thrones season 5 ep 4, review - WARNING: contains major spoiliers!
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living