Search for American’s Body on Forbidden Island ‘Put on Hold’

Nov 28, 2018

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Officials have halted the search effort for the remains of a US traveler and missionary who was allegedly murdered by an indigenous tribe when he attempted to visit their island, which is off-limits to outsiders by law.

Indian law enforcement officials said they would pause the effort to recover the body of John Allen Chau, 26, an American missionary who attempted to visit North Sentinel island in the Andaman Sea to preach Christianity to the Sentinelese tribe on the island. A group of fishermen who ferried Chau to the cordoned-off island said they saw tribe members dragging and burying his body on the beach on Nov. 17.

Over the weekend, authorities sent two boats and one helicopter to assess the location of Chau’s remains. But, the mission was complicated by the Sentinelese’s hostility toward outsiders, and the search teams could not get too close to the shore. The tribe, which has remained largely un-contacted and isolated on its small forested island, has been known to shoot approaching outsiders with bows and arrows, which is how Chau is said to have been killed. After a standoff with several members of the tribe who were holding their bows and arrows, the search team retreated in their boat.

On Monday, a top Indian official called a meeting of senior police officers, tribal welfare experts and anthropologists to discuss the matter, BBC reports. “In the initial days several attempts were made to find the body after the tribesmen were seen dragging it,” an official who spoke to the BBC on the condition of anonymity said. “We know the general direction of where it was taken, but we still don’t know where exactly it is.”

The official added that the search is “is too risky” and numerous indigenous advocacy groups had “objections.” Contact with outsiders, like the search team, could bring deadly disease to the isolated tribe, whose immune systems likely wouldn’t be able to handle modern strains of the flu, measles or other viruses.

It is not clear if or when the search will resume.

In 2006, a similar situation occurred when two crab fishermen’s’ boat became adrift and washed on shore on North Sentinel. They were killed by the tribespeople. When a helicopter was sent to recover the bodies, the Sentinelese shot arrows at it. According to BBC, one of the fishermen’s bodies was retrieved after several attempts; the other never left the island.

Featured image by DigitalGlobe via Getty Images.

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