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UN raises funds to salvage oil tanker ‘time bomb’ off Yemen coast | Environment News

The decaying 45-year-old FSO Safer has not been serviced since Yemen plunged into civil war in 2014.

The United Nations has announced that it has raised the necessary $75m to salvage a deteriorating tanker in Yemen, an emergency operation aimed at averting a disastrous Red Sea oil spill and a potential $20bn clean-up.

The decaying 45-year-old FSO Safer, long used as a floating storage platform and now abandoned off the rebel-held Yemeni port of Hodeidah, has not been serviced since Yemen plunged into civil war in 2014.

United Nations officials last month warned that the ship, which contains four times the amount of oil spilt in the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, was a ticking environmental time bomb requiring immediate action.

“We are able to announce we have now pledges and commitment sufficient to start the FSO Safer salvage operation,” said David Gressly, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Yemen and leader of the global body’s efforts on the Safer.

“It’s a very key milestone,” he said, adding that donor pledges have now topped $77m.

The first phase of the salvage operation would stabilise the FSO Safer and transfer the oil to another vessel. A second phase involving long-term storage of the cargo is estimated to cost another $38m.

“We believe that we could meet that in a timely fashion,” Gressly said of the cost.

The ship is at severe risk of sinking, with seawater having entered the abandoned tanker’s engine compartment in the past few years, causing damage to pipes.

Rust has covered parts of the tanker and the inert gas that prevents the tanks from gathering flammable gases has leaked out. Experts say maintenance is no longer possible because the damage to the ship is irreversible.

The UN, the United States and other governments, as well as Greenpeace and other international organisations, have long warned that a huge release, or explosion, could disrupt global commercial shipping through the vital Bab al-Mandeb Strait and the Suez Canal, causing untold damage to the global economy.

Civil war

In 2014, the Iran-allied Houthis seized the capital Sanaa, eventually forcing Yemen’s then-President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee Yemen for Saudi Arabia.

By March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition – backed by the US – intervened militarily in Yemen in a bid to fight the Houthis.

The conflict, according to UN estimates, has killed 377,000 people as of the end of 2021, directly and indirectly through hunger and disease.

The UN has previously blamed the Houthis for delays to efforts to examine the tanker.

According to an investigation by the US media outlet The New Yorker, the rebels had “appropriated the company’s entire operating budget” of $110m.

Much of the materials and machinery were “plundered” by soldiers, and many of the workers had left the tanker, the New Yorker said.

The Houthis have been accused by their opponents of delaying a solution to the Safer crisis in an attempt to gain politically. Leading Houthis have also downplayed the risks of an oil spill in the past.

Meanwhile, the rebel group has rejected the accusations and has previously blamed the UN for the collapse of talks as well as the Saudi-backed coalition.

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Mexico’s $10bn lawsuit against US gun makers dismissed by judge | News

Mexico estimates that 2.2 percent of the nearly 40 million guns made annually in the US are smuggled across its border.

A US judge has dismissed Mexico’s $10bn lawsuit that sought to hold US gun manufacturers responsible for facilitating the flood of weapons that are smuggled across the US-Mexico border to drug cartels.

In its August 2021 complaint, Mexico estimated that 2.2 percent of the nearly 40 million guns made annually in the United States are smuggled into Mexico, including as many as 597,000 guns made by defendants named in the lawsuit.

Mexico said that in 2019 alone, at least 17,000 homicides were linked to trafficked weapons from the US.

“While the court has considerable sympathy for the people of Mexico, and none whatsoever for those who traffic guns to Mexican criminal organizations, it is duty-bound to follow the law,” Chief Judge F Dennis Saylor said in a 44-page decision announced in federal court in Boston on Friday.

Saylor said federal law “unequivocally” bars lawsuits seeking to hold gun manufacturers responsible when people use guns for their intended purpose. He said the law contained several narrow exceptions, but none applied.

The decision is a victory for gun makers Smith & Wesson Brands, Sturm, Ruger & Co, Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Inc, Colt’s Manufacturing Company LLC, Glock Inc, and others who were accused of undermining Mexico’s strict gun laws by designing, marketing, and selling military-style assault weapons that drug cartels use.

Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said it would appeal the decision “and continue insisting that the sale of guns be responsible, transparent and accountable, and that the negligent way in which they are sold in the United States facilitates criminals’ access to them”.

“This suit by the Mexican government has received worldwide recognition and has been considered a turning point in the discussion around the gun industry’s responsibility for the violence experience in Mexico and the region,” the ministry said.

Shielding gun makers from lawsuits

Mexico was seeking at least $10bn in compensation, but legal experts had viewed the lawsuit as a long shot.

The Mexican government had argued that the companies know their practices contribute to the trafficking of guns into Mexico and facilitate it. Mexico wanted compensation for the havoc the guns have wrought on its people.

A lawyer for Smith & Wesson declined to comment. Lawyers for Sturm, Ruger did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mexico said gun smuggling has been a key factor in its ranking third worldwide in the number of gun-related deaths each year. It also claimed to suffer many other harms, including declining investment and economic activity and a need to spend more on law enforcement and public safety.

But the judge said Mexico could not overcome a provision in a US law – the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act – that shields gun makers from lawsuits over “the harm solely caused by the criminal or unlawful misuse of firearm products … by others when the product functioned as designed and intended”.

Mexico argued the US protection act did not apply when an injury occurred outside the United States.

Saylor did not agree.

“Mexico is seeking to hold defendants liable for practices that occurred within the United States and only resulted in harm in Mexico,” he wrote. “This case thus represents a valid domestic application of the PLCAA, and the presumption against extraterritoriality does not apply.”

The sale of firearms is severely restricted in Mexico and controlled by the Defence Department. But thousands of guns are smuggled into Mexico each year by the country’s powerful drug cartels.

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Small protests appear in Havana over islandwide blackout

HAVANA — The widespread power outage caused by Hurricane Ian prompted several hundred people to protest in Havana, and a monitoring group said the island’s internet service shut down again Friday in what appeared to be an attempt to curb information about the demonstrations from spreading.

An Associated Press journalist saw about 400 people gathered Thursday night in at least two spots in the Cerro neighborhood shouting, “We want light, we want light,” and banging pots and pans.

It appeared to be the first public display over the electricity problems that spread from western Cuba, where Ian hit on Tuesday, to the entire island, leaving the country’s 11 million people in the dark. The storm also left three people dead and caused still unquantified damage.

Power was restored to much of the island within a day after the storm’s blast. But there still areas without service, including in the capital.

Internet service was interrupted Thursday, then returned by Friday morning, at least in some areas. But it went out again later in the day, groups that monitor internet access reported.

Alp Toker, director of London-based Netblocks, said the blackout in internet service on Thursday and Friday appeared different from an internet outage that occurred soon after Ian hit.

“Internet has been cut again in Cuba, at around the same time as yesterday,” Toker said in an email to AP on Friday night. “The timings provide another indicator that the shutdowns are a measure to suppress coverage of the protests.”

Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at Kentik Inc., a network intelligence company, earlier described Thursday’s event as a “total internet blackout.”

Repeated blackouts on Cuba’s already fragile grid were among the causes of the island’s largest social protests in decades in July 2021. Thousands of people, weary of power failures and shortages of goods exacerbated by the pandemic and U.S. sanctions, turned out in cities across the island to vent their anger and some also lashed out at the government. Hundreds were arrested and prosecuted, prompting harsh criticism of the administration of President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

The government has not said what percentage of the overall population remained without electricity as of early Friday, but electrical authorities said only 10% of Havana’s 2 million people had power Thursday.

Experts said the total blackout showed the vulnerability of Cuba’s power grid and warned that it will require time and sources — things the country doesn’t have — to fix the problem.

Authorities have promised to work without rest to address the issue.

Calls by AP to a dozen people in Cuba’s main cities — Holguín, Guantánamo, Matanzas, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey and Santiago — found problems similar to those in Havana, with most reporting their neighborhoods were still without electricity.

Authorities say the total blackout happened because of a failure in the connections between Cuba’s three regions — west, center and east — caused by Ian’s winds.

Cuba’s power grid “was already in a critical and immunocompromised state as a result of the deterioration of the thermoelectric plants. The patient is now on life support,” said Jorge Piñon, director of the Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy’s Latin America and Caribbean program at the University of Texas.

Cuba has 13 power generation plants, eight of which are traditional thermoelectric plants, and five floating power plants rented from Turkey since 2019. There is also a group of small plants distributed throughout the country since an energy reform in 2006.

But the plants are poorly maintained, a phenomenon the government attributed to the lack of funds and U.S. sanctions. Complications in obtaining fuel is also a problem.

———

Andrea Rodríguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP

———

Associated Press writer E. Eduardo Castillo contributed to this report from Mexico City.



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North Korea fires ballistic missiles in latest tests amid tension | News

Japanese official reported that the missiles travelled 400kms (250 miles) and at a maximum altitude of 50km (30 miles).

North Korea has fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the Pyongyang area towards the country’s east coast, according to South Korean and Japanese officials, marking Pyongyang’s fourth missile test launches in a week.

Japan’s NHK national television said multiple missiles were fired from North Korea on Saturday morning and were believed to have landed in the Sea of Japan though outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

“What appears to be a ballistic missile was launched from North Korea,” the Japanese coast guard said in a statement issued at 6:47 am (21:47 GMT) local time on Saturday.

In a second statement issued about 15 minutes later, the coast guard said another apparent ballistic missile was launched.

NHK said the projectiles seemed to have fallen outside Japan’s exclusive economic zones, citing government sources.

The office of Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida tweeted that the latest missile launch was being analysed and instructions issued for the safety of people, aircraft and vessels.

North Korea fired short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Wednesday and Thursday in the hours before and after a visit by US Vice President Kamala Harris to South Korea during which she emphasised the “ironclad” US commitment to the security of its Asian allies.

The latest launch also follows after the navies of South Korea, the United States and Japan staged trilateral anti-submarine exercises on Friday for the first time in five years.

Japan’s Vice Defence Minister Toshiro Ino said North Korea’s repeated missile firings are “persistently escalating provocations”.

“North Korea’s actions threaten the peace and safety not only for Japan but also the region and the international community, and are absolutely impermissible,” Ino said, calling the four launches in one week “unprecedented”.

The missiles rose to a maximum altitude of 50km (30 miles) and flew as far as 400km (250 miles) before landing in the Sea of Japan in areas outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Ino said.

The missiles may have been on “irregular” trajectory, which makes tracking more difficult.

North Korea has conducted a record number of weapons tests this year and analysts see the increased pace of testing as an effort to build its ballistic weapons capacity, as well as to take advantage of a world distracted by the Ukraine conflict and other crises.

Nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches by North Korea have long been banned by the United Nations Security Council.

“Despite North Korea’s internal weaknesses and international isolation, it is rapidly modernising weapons and taking advantage of a world divided by US-China rivalry and Russia’s annexation of more Ukrainian territory,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

A South Korean legislator said on Wednesday that the North has completed preparations for a nuclear test, and a window for such a test could open between China’s party congress in October and the US mid-term elections in November.



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