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Indian authorities struggle to retrieve US missionary feared killed on remote island

Authorities have started the arduous task of trying to retrieve a US missionary feared killed on a remote Indian island, careful not to trigger conflict with the islanders. John Allen Chau was last seen last week when he traveled to the forbidden North Sentinel Island in the Bay of Bengal to try to convert the island’s residents to Christianity. The Sentinelese, as they are known, have a decades-long history of repelling outsiders, a fact that is near certain to make the journey to find Chau a treacherous one.

john death in sentinelese island

Indian authorities along with the fishermen who reported seeing Chau’s body last week, went near the island on Friday and Saturday in an effort to figure out how to recover the body.

“We have mapped the area with the help of these fishermen. We have not spotted the body yet but we roughly know the area where he is believed to be buried,” said Dependra Pathak, a top police official in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Pathak said the group spotted several tribe members carrying bows and arrows and walking around the area where the fishermen said they saw Chau’s body being dragged and buried.
“The mission was done from a distance to avoid any potential conflict with the tribespeople as it’s a sensitive zone,” he said. “We are discussing with anthropologists and psychologists about the nature of the Sentinelese.”
Pathak said there are a lot of things to consider before they enter the island, including the psychology of its residents.
“There are legal requirements as well which we need to keep in mind while carrying out the operation. We are also studying the 2006 case where two local fishermen were killed. The bodies were recovered then,” he said.

The Sentinelese: World’s most isolated tribe

The Sentinelese have lived in complete isolation on the remote North Sentinel Island for tens of thousands of years. The island, which is part of India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands territory, is roughly as large as Manhattan.
India has protected the island for decades to prevent the Sentinelese from contracting modern illnesses and to keep outsiders alive.
People are not allowed to go within five nautical miles of the island by Indian law and the Indian Navy patrols it day and night.
And while its residents have no contact with the outside world, they aren’t too far from other civilizations.
The island is only about 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of Port Blair, the territory’s capital known to tourists for its stunning emerald beaches, history and water sports.
At least 15 Sentinelese could be living on the island, according to India’s census estimates from 2011.

He returned to his boat twice before vanishing

Traveling on a tourist visa, Chau arrived to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in October with one mission: preach to the Sentinelese.
Indian authorities say Chau was 27, but Mat Staver, founder of a Christian ministry that Chau was involved with as a college student, gave Chau’s age as 26.
He had traveled to the remote island years ago and returned knowing that his mission was illegal and risky. Still, he wanted to get to know the islanders’ way of life. He hoped to eventually share the gospel and perhaps translate the Bible, said a friend, John Middleton Ramsey.
He asked a local friend, an electronic engineer, to get a boat and also recruit others — several fishermen and a water sports expert — who could help him.
He carefully planned his expedition and used a 13-page long journal to write his strategy, the steps he would take to reach the island and, later, some of his memories.
After he paid the fishermen around $350, police said, the group boarded “a wooded boat fitted with motors” and headed to the island on the night of November 15.
They stopped a little less than half a mile away and waited in the dark. At some point in the morning, Chau “used a canoe to reach the shore of the island,” Pathak said.
He returned later that day with arrow injuries, police said.
But that did not discourage him.
He returned to the island the following day. It’s unclear what happened but “the (tribespeople) broke his canoe” and he had no other option than to swim back to the boat.
On the third attempt of his mission, he didn’t come back.
The fishermen said they later saw the tribespeople dragging his body around but police haven’t been able to independently verify Chau’s death. Authorities believe he was killed.
All seven locals who facilitated the trip have been arrested.

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