News & Current Affairs

November 18, 2008

Hijacked oil tanker nears Somalia

Hijacked oil tanker nears Somalia

The Sirius Star oil tanker (undated image)

The Sirius Star’s cargo has an estimated value of $100m

A giant Saudi oil tanker seized by pirates in the Indian Ocean is nearing the coast of Somalia, the US Navy says.

The Sirius Star is the biggest tanker ever to be hijacked, with a cargo of 2m barrels – a quarter of Saudi Arabia’s daily output – worth more than $100m.

The vessel was captured in what the navy called an “unprecedented” attack 450 nautical miles (830km) off the Kenyan coast on Saturday.

Its international crew of 25, including two Britons, is said to be safe.

The ship’s operator, Vela International, said a response team had been mobilized to work towards ensuring the safe release of vessel and crew.

Map showing areas of pirate attacks

The hijacking was highly unusual both in terms of the size of the ship and the fact it was attacked so far from the African coast.

The seizure points to the inability of a multi-national naval task force sent to the region earlier this year to stop Somali piracy, he says.

The US Fifth Fleet said the supertanker was “nearing an anchorage point” at Eyl, a port often used by pirates based in Somalia’s Puntland region.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the pirates involved were well trained.

“Once they get to a point where they can board, it becomes very difficult to get them off, because, clearly, now they hold hostages,” he told a Pentagon briefing in Washington.

Oil price rises

Hijackings off the coast of East Africa and the Gulf of Aden – an area of more than 1m square miles – make up one-third of all global piracy incidents this year, according the International Maritime Bureau.

THE SIRIUS STAR
The Sirius Star oil tanker (image from Aramco website)
Length of a US aircraft carrier
Can carry 2m barrels of oil
Biggest vessel to be hijacked

They are usually resolved peacefully through negotiations for ransom but, given the value of the cargo in this instance, a military response has not been ruled out, our correspondent says.

At least 12 vessels – including the Ukrainian freighter MV Faina, which was seized in September – remain captive and under negotiation with around 250 crew being held hostage.

This month alone, pirates have seized a Japanese cargo ship off Somalia, a Chinese fishing boat off Kenya and a Turkish ship transporting chemicals off Yemen.

War-torn Somalia has not had an effective government since 1991.

The South Korean-built Sirius Star was seized as it headed for the US via the southern tip of Africa, prompting a rise in crude oil prices on global markets.

The route around the Cape of Good Hope is a main thoroughfare for fully-laden supertankers from the Gulf.

With a capacity of 318,000 dead weight tonnes, the ship is 330m (1,080ft) long – about the length of a US aircraft carrier.

Owned by the Saudi company Aramco, it made its maiden voyage in March.

As well as the two Britons, the ship’s crew members are said to be from Croatia, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia.


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September 12, 2008

Obama win preferred in world poll

Obama win preferred in world poll

Sen Barack Obama in Flint, Michigan, on 8 September 2008

Most thought US relations would get better under a president Obama

People outside the US would prefer Barack Obama to become US president ahead of John McCain, a BBC World Service poll suggests.

Democrat Mr Obama was favored by a four-to-one margin across the 22,500 people polled in 22 countries.

In 17 countries, the most common view was that US relations with the rest of the world would improve under Mr Obama.

If Republican Mr McCain were elected, the most common view was that relations would remain about the same.

The poll was conducted before the Democratic and Republican parties held their conventions and before the headline-grabbing nomination of Sarah Palin as Mr McCain’s running mate.

The results could therefore be a reflection of the greater media focus on Mr Obama as he competed for the presidential candidacy against Hillary Clinton.

Pie chart

The margin of those in favor of Mr Obama winning November’s US election ranged from 9% in India to 82% in Kenya, which is the birthplace of the Illinois senator’s father.

On average 49% preferred Mr Obama to 12% in favor of Mr McCain. Nearly four in 10 of those polled did not take a view.

On average 46% thought US relations with the world would improve with Mr Obama in the White House, 22% that ties would stay the same, while seven per cent expected relations to worsen.

Only 20% thought ties would get better if Mr McCain were in the Oval Office.

The expectation that a McCain presidency would improve US relations with the world was the most common view, by a modest margin, only in China, India and Nigeria.

But across the board, the largest number – 37% – thought relations under a president McCain would stay the same, while 16% expected them to deteriorate.

In no country did most people think that a McCain presidency would worsen relations.

Sen John McCain in Sterling Heights, Michigan, on 5 September 2008

Some 30% of Americans expected relations to improve under Mr McCain

Oddly, in Turkey more people thought US relations would worsen with an Obama presidency than under Mr McCain, even though most Turks polled preferred Mr Obama to win.

In Egypt, Lebanon, Russia and Singapore, the predominant expectation was that relations would remain the same if Mr Obama won the election.

The countries most optimistic that an Obama presidency would improve ties were US Nato allies – Canada (69%), Italy (64%), France (62%), Germany (61%), and the UK (54%) – as well as Australia (62%), along with Kenya (87%) and Nigeria (71%).

When asked whether the election as president of the African-American Mr Obama would “fundamentally change” their perception of the US, 46% said it would while 27% said it would not.

The US public was polled separately and Americans also believed an Obama presidency would improve US ties with the world more than a McCain presidency.

Forty-six per cent of Americans expected relations to get better if Mr Obama were elected and 30% if Mr McCain won the White House.

A similar poll conducted for BBC World Service ahead of the 2004 US presidential election found most countries would have preferred to see Democratic nominee John Kerry beat the incumbent George W Bush.

At the time, the Philippines, Nigeria and Poland were among the few countries to favor Mr Bush’s re-election. All three now favor Mr Obama over Mr McCain.

In total 22,531 citizens were polled in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Panama, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Turkey, the UAE and the UK. A parallel survey was conducted with 1,000 US adults.

Polling firm GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes carried out the survey between July and August.

September 7, 2008

Mudslides bury Philippines homes

Mudslides bury Philippines homes

Crushed house (07/09/08)

The ramshackle houses were crushed by cascading tonnes of mud

At least 11 people have been killed and 14 others are missing after landslides triggered by heavy rains buried several houses in the southern Philippines.

Dozens of rescue workers have been trying to reach victims trapped under debris in Compostela Valley, about 840km (520 miles) south-east of Manila.

Up to 30 makeshift houses were destroyed by falling mud and rocks in the disaster on Mindanao island.

Hundreds of people have fled the area because of the risk of more mudslides.

Army, police and civilian volunteers searched for survivors amid treacherous conditions, while two air force helicopters were deployed to ferry victims to hospital.

“Our people are battling against weather and time,” Major Armand Rico was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

A first landslide hit the area on Saturday, followed by a second one early on Sunday.

Officials have ordered people to leave the area because of the threat of a further landslide.

Such incidents are common in the Philippines, especially in low-lying and mining and coastal areas, during the monsoon season between May and October.

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August 30, 2008

Manila ferry blast suspect held

Manila ferry blast suspect held

Superferry 14 on fire in Manila Bay in February 2004

The 10,000-tonne Superferry 14 was heading for Bacolod

A leading suspect wanted over the Philippines’ worst militant attack has been arrested in Bahrain and returned to Manila, officials have said.

Ruben Pestano Lavilla Jr, 35, is wanted for alleged involvement in the bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 that led to 116 deaths in a subsequent fire.

He was the “brains” behind an Islamic group allied to two al-Qaeda affiliated organizations, Manila officials say.

They say he was detected after document checks by Manila’s embassy in Bahrain.

The arrest had not been made public while Philippine officials prepared deportation papers.

‘Fled’ country

Marcelino Libanan, head of the immigration commission, told Reuters news agency that Mr Lavilla was checked after trying to get a bank loan and had been working as an interpreter at the Philippine embassy.

However, Justice Undersecretary Ricardo Blancaflor told the AP agency that the arrest came after Mr Lavilla submitted documents for a job at the embassy.

Mr Lavilla is alleged to have fled the Philippines a month after the ferry attack.

He is accused of being the mastermind behind the Rajah Solaiman Movement, blamed for several bomb attacks in Manila in 2004 and 2005.

The movement is said to be linked to the Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf Muslim militant groups, based in the southern Philippines.

Mr Blancaflor said: “If you are a terrorist, wherever you are, wherever you hide, the law will catch up with you – that’s the most important thing here.”

The ferry blaze was South East Asia’s second-worst militant attack after the 2002 bombings in Bali, Indonesia, that killed 202 people.

The 10,000-tonne Superferry 14 was heading for Bacolod in the central Philippines when it caught fire on 27 February 2004.

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