-SEARCH RESUMES…Lama HASAN has gotten a ride with the Coast Guard – out as close to the Costa Concordia as we’ve been so far…This as divers have resumed the search this morning for those still missing. Rough seas are forecast for later in the day which could further complicate the search efforts.
-THE CAPTAIN…Whatever happens to him legally – Ansa and Italian TV reporting that the cruise ship company has suspended Captain Francesco Schettino this morning – this per a lawyer for the company. On the investigative side, Italian TV also reporting that firemen on board the wreck are looking for Captain Schettino’s safe – and that Italian police are still waiting for drug and alcohol tests on the Captain. Per Phoebe NATANSON, most people questioned seem to think he was not drunk that night.
-WHO WAS THAT WOMAN?…As Phoebe NATANSON reported, Italian media focus this morning on the woman who was seen with Captain Schettino on the ship. She was a 25-year-old Moldovan woman named Domnika Cermontan. During his hearing Tuesday, Captain Schettino mentioned the woman who was on the Concordia bridge with him and the other officers, whose name was recorded in the hearing official verbatim report. The woman says she had worked for the company — not clear exactly in what capacity. Also conflicting reports as to whether she was on the ship’s manifest; the company says she was registered on board and the company is “ready to supply the authorities with the identity of the person and the number of the ticket she bought.” We have translated an interview she gave to the Moldovan Jurnal TV, in which she confirms that she was on the bridge with the Captain and the other officers. Schettino allegedly told the judge that this woman was another officer’s guest and she had been invited to the bridge to enjoy the view of a well-lit Isola del Giglio from there. Now of course the prosecutors want to question her.
-SUPPORT FOR THE CAPTAIN…Phoebe NATANSON again: Support is growing in some quarters for the beleaguered Captain. A banner has been placed outside his home that reads “Captain, Don’t Give Up.” Next to it, someone scrawled “Press and TV = Disgrace.” As for those who think he should be in jail – still many of those – the prosecutor may present his appeal to Schettino’s house arrest today or tomorrow.
-CRUISE COMPANY QUESTIONS…More today to suggest it’s not just the Captain who is to blame. Other officers are being questioned. And a report in Corriere della Serra says the cruise ship company knew there was a problem on board 68 minutes before an evacuation order was given. One (inflammatory?) charge: The company may not have ordered an immediate evacuation because of an Italian maritime law that requires passengers who are exposed to a traumatic event to be paid nearly $13,000 in compensation. That would have been nearly $38.5 million for all the passengers on board.
-DOOMED FROM THE START?…Our Italian translator notes that when the Costa Concordia was christened in July 2006, the champagne bottle that is traditionally thrown against the bow did not break – which, according to superstition, is a bad omen.
-ECO-DISASTER?…Italy’s Ecology Minister Corrado Clini told Italian radio this morning that work to remove the ship’s fuel will not begin until the search efforts conclude.
-BACK IN THE U.S….The Catholic church where the missing American couple, Jerry and Barbara Heil, were parishioners, held an emotional service last night in which the Heils were described as devout Catholics who joined St. Pius in 1973 and sent their four children to its elementary and middle schools.
BIRD FLU DEATHS
Less than a month after a bus driver in China died from the bird flu, two new deaths have been recorded – one each in Vietnam and Cambodia. In Vietnam, test results confirmed that an 18-year-old Vietnamese man who worked at a duck farm died of the disease. In Cambodia, a 2-year-old boy died after contact with sick poultry in his village.
IRAN OFFERS TO TALK ABOUT ITS NUCLEAR PROGRAM
Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi says Iran would like to restart negotiations over its nuclear program, though U.S. officials say they have yet to see proof of that claim. Meantime, Iran’s currency, the rial, fell to its lowest level ever against the dollar yesterday. The drop appeared to reflect new anxiety about the impact of Western economic sanctions on the country’s Central Bank.
US HELPS MORE IRANIAN FISHERMEN
We are great friends in one way at least: As Luis MARTINEZ reports, the US Navy destroyer USS Dewey helped out some Iranian fishermen yesterday by providing them with food, water and medical supplies. The ship’s helicopter had spotted three Iranian fishing dhows in the Arabian Sea, one of them was tethered to another. It turned out one of the dhows had flooded a few days before and the crew had evacuated to the other vessels. The destroyer arrived on the scene and sent a boarding party to make sure the Iranian sailors were ok. After a two hour visit they left the supplies behind and made sure they had what they need.
IRAN HELPING SYRIA?
The Wall Street Journal reports American officials have uncovered an effort by Iran to help Syria mask its oil exports and evade an American embargo. Syrian crude oil is being shipped to Iran where it can be sold on the international market, with revenue going back to Damascus. In response, the Treasury Department has begun targeting the insurance and registration of international tankers shipping Syrian oil overseas.
ARAB LEAGUE TO ISSUE REPORT ON SYRIA
The Arab League will issue a report today on its heavily criticized observer mission to Syria. The League says the report will evaluate Syria’s cooperation with the mission, while noting the observers’ difficulty in gaining access to the country’s hot spots.
REPORT: ARAB SPRING SPURS DEMOCRACY
The Arab Spring protests that shocked entrenched regimes in the Middle East and North Africa last year were the biggest challenge to authoritarian governments since the downfall of Soviet Communism, the pro-democracy watchdog group Freedom House said in a report released Thursday. The Washington-based group pointed to Tunisia’s ouster of dictator Zine el-Abidene Ben Ali and subsequent free national elections as one of the biggest leaps forward for democracy since the group began publishing its annual review of global civil rights and liberties in 1972. But the crackdown on these uprisings weighed against the advance toward democracy and even prompted China to suppress dissent in its far-flung interior regions all the more harshly, the group said: “In China, the authorities responded to events in Cairo’s Tahrir Square with a near-hysterical campaign of arrests, incommunicado detentions, press censorship, and stepped-up control over the Internet.”
DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS SHUTS SOMALI HOSPITALS
As Dana HUGHES reported, Doctors Without Borders is closing two of its largest medical centers in Mogadishu after two of its staffers were shot to death. The closure of the facilities cuts in half the assistance the aid group is providing in Somalia. And — breaking — word of a blast in a refugee camp in Mogadishu — at least two dead.
STRANGE TWIST IN PAKISTAN’S “MEMOGATE” SCANDAL
A music video has surfaced featuring the chief accuser in the Memogate scandal, Mansoor Ijaz, acting as a commentator for a naked female wrestling match. It was unclear why the wrestling video, which was made in 2004 and has been viewed for years on the Internet, came to light only now. Ijaz told the AP he thought the video’s emergence was part of an effort by Haqqani to discredit him ahead of his testimony before Pakistan’s Supreme Court. He confirmed that the video is real and said he did it as favor for his wife’s best friend when the actor who was supposed to play the part didn’t show up.
SUICIDE ATTACK AT KANADHAR AIRBASE
As Aleem AGHA reports, six civilians were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to Kandahar Air Field. The base is used for U.S. and NATO operations in southern Afghanistan.
DANGEROUS ABORTIONS ON THE RISE
The BBC notes a World Health Organization study that finds dangerous abortions are on the rise worldwide. Forty-nine percent of abortions in 2008 were performed without trained clinical help. In Africa, a stunning 97 percent of abortions in Africa were done this way.
MURDOCH TO PAY PHONE HACKING VICTIMS
Kelly COBIELLA reports from London: Rupert Murdoch has agreed to pay damages to 19 high-profile victims of tabloid phone hacking, including actor Jude Law, soccer player Ashley Cole and former British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott. They are among dozens of people suing News Group Newspapers after their voice mail messages were hacked by News of the World.
MEXICO’S DRUG WAR SPREADS
The New York Times reports Mexico’s drug war is spreading from traditionally violent areas along the country’s northern border to Mexico’s interior and southern regions. The spreading violence is believed to reflect a widening turf war between two of the country’s largest criminal organizations and puts added pressure on already-strapped authorities.
SHARK ATTACKS IN AUSTRALIA
Channel 9 Australia has an interview with the latest shark attack survivor there. There’s been three shark attacks in Australia in less than three weeks. That’s as many attacks as the country generally sees in an entire year.
TENNIS TEMPER TANTRUM
From Joe SIMONETTI: Marcos Baghdatis provided fans at the Australian Open with some extra entertainment when he smashed four rackets in row during a spectacular court-side tantrum. The Cypriot lost his cool after dropping serve early in the third set against Stanislas Wawrinka, having already lost the first two sets. Wawrinka, the No21 seed, went on to complete the victory 7-6 (3), 6-4, 5-7, 6-1.
DSK’S WIFE TO EDIT HUFFINGTON POST IN FRANCE
French journalist Anne Sinclair, wife of former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, has been chosen to edit the French edition of The Huffington Post. “Le Huffington Post” will be introduced Monday.
ANCIENT PERUVIANS ATE POPCORN
Perfectly timed for National Popcorn Day, the BBC reports researchers have found ancient Peruvians were eating popcorn 1,000 years earlier than previously thought. Corncobs found at an ancient site in Peru suggest the inhabitants used them for making flour and popcorn.