Ex-SCMP reporter Kim Wall vanishes after trip on inventor’s submarine - Danish police say it was deliberately sunk

A manslaughter case has been opened and inventor Peter Madsen detained, although no body has been recovered

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 August, 2017, 9:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 August, 2017, 11:03am

Former South China Morning Post journalist Kim Wall has reported from the depths of post-war Sri Lanka and from the capital of North Korea. While covering climate change in the Marshall Islands, she was quarantined and tested for exposure to radiation.

The 30-year-old freelancer, based in New York and China, is known among her friends as an intrepid reporter, skilled at exploring hard-hitting topics in obscure, and at times dangerous, locations.

She worked as an editorial intern and reporter in Hong Kong for the South China Morning Post from June to September, 2013, covering news about China for the national desk.

To her loved ones, a reporting trip off the coast of Denmark appeared to be a relatively safe, mundane destination. It was, after all, less than 50km from her Swedish hometown.

But it was on this trip, aboard a submarine, that Wall vanished late last week. She was last seen on Thursday, departing from Copenhagen on the vessel along with its owner, a Danish inventor and amateur rocket builder named Peter Madsen, 46. Her family said she was working on a story about Madsen, who is well known in Denmark for using crowd-funding to build his own submarines and rockets.

Copenhagen police have arrested Madsen and detained him on a charge of involuntary manslaughter, although no body has been found, police said. As the search for Wall continues, police said they would like to talk with anyone who may have seen her leave the submarine.

Madsen deliberately sank the submarine on Friday, according to authorities, when he was rescued from Koge Bay. Officials later recovered the vessel.

“The sub has been searched and there is nobody on board - neither dead nor alive,” Copenhagen police homicide chief Jens Moller said.

Madsen has denied the charge, saying he dropped Wall off in the harbour of Copenhagen late on Thursday after she completed her reporting. Madsen has since changed his story, police said on Sunday, but declined to explain further.

Defence lawyer, Bettina Hald Engmark, said her client is “willing to co-operate” and has not decided whether to appeal the ruling that Madsen be held for 24 days while police investigate.

Police had been searching for the submarine, named the UC3 Nautilus, since Friday morning, when Wall’s boyfriend reported that she had not returned to Copenhagen on Thursday night as planned.

Krisitan Isbak, told a Danish news outlet that he spotted the submarine, and Madsen in the vessel’s tower, after authorities asked for help in the search. He saw Madsen go down into the submarine and reemerge shortly after. Then, the vessel began to sink, he said.

“There was no panic at all,” Isbak said. “The man was absolutely calm.”

Isbak described the scene further to the AP, saying “there was then some kind of air flow coming up and the submarine started to sink.” Madsen stayed in the tower until water began pouring into it. As the boat sank, he swam to a nearby boat, Isbak told the Associated Press.

Madsen spoke to Danish television station TV2, claiming the submarine sank after “a minor problem with a ballast tank,” which holds water to provide stability, “turned into a major issue.

“It took about 30 seconds for Nautilus to sink, and I couldn’t close any hatches or anything,” Madsen told the station. “But I guess that was pretty good because I otherwise still would have been down there.”

Wall’s family declined to speak in detail about her disappearance. But her mother said, “we still hope for her safe return.”

“It is with a great concern that we, her family, received the news that Kim is missing after an interview with Peter Madsen in Denmark,” the family wrote in a statement to the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We sincerely hope that she will be found and that she is well.”

Wall’s disappearance resonated among journalists around the world. Her reporting covered topics such as identity, gender, pop-culture, social justice and foreign policy. In addition to The South China Morning Post, her work has appeared in Harpers, the Guardian, the New York Times, Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, and many other publications.

A native of Malmö, Sweden, Wall graduated from Columbia University with masters degrees in journalism and international affairs. She received a bachelor’s degree from the London School of Economics & Political Science.

The International Women’s Media Foundation described her as a “beloved member” of its community and said it was “enormously concerned” about her disappearance.

“We ask that the Danish authorities urgently make every effort to locate Kim and provide everyone who loves her with more information,” the organisation wrote in a statement. “The global press freedom community is united in standing with Kim, her family and colleagues.”