COSTA CRUISE MESS – AGAIN
-NIGHTMARE AT SEA…We’ll admit: when we first saw the bulletins yesterday, we figured, can’t be that bad; must just be the name that’s getting interest. But while no passengers have been hurt, seems fair to say the Costa company – and more than 1,000 people aboard the Costa Allegra – have a fresh nightmare on their hands. Overnight a French fishing vessel reached the Allegra, which is drifting without power in a part of the Indian Ocean which pirates like to visit. Without lights or air conditioning, passengers spent the night on deck. The 600-foot Costa Allegra, owned by the same company as the ill-fated Costa Concordia, lost power Monday after a fire in its main generator room. Two tugs from the Seychelles Coast Guard are expected to reach the ship Tuesday afternoon to add professional towing help. On board: 630 passengers and 413 crew members of various nationalities, including 8 Americans. A helicopter is on its way to the cruise ship from the Seychelles, bringing fresh food, satellite phones and VHF radios, Costa Cruises said. And in a sunny assessment of things, Costa said: “The weather is good. Guests were invited to prepare their luggage in order to be ready for the time of disembarkation.”
-THE PIRACY THREAT…A detachment of Italian marines were on board to provide security because of the piracy threat. Earlier today a patrol from the Seychelles’ air force circled the Allegra to confirm that she was safe from Somali pirates. “She is fine and all the passengers are OK,” a spokesman for the Seychelles Coast Guard said on Tuesday morning.
-PARADISE ISLANDS WILL HAVE A TOUGH JOB ON THEIR HANDS…The Costa Allegra is expected to arrive in Mahe, the Seychelles, Thursday morning local time. Helping these people will stretch resources for the Seychelles, a nation of only 80,000 people. Fewer than 20 flights a week land at its international airport, and most are fully booked because of a carnival planned for this weekend. “It’s going to be mighty tight for the government to find rooms at the drop of a hat for more than 1,000 people,” said one hotel owner on Mahe, the main island, who did not want to be named. “They’d better get a fleet of charter planes waiting here to take them straight home, or else we’ll be looking at breaking out the tents to give them some shelter.”
-A FAMILY’S REALLY, REALLY BAD LUCK…The BBC and Daily Mail report on a “father’s anguish as daughter is trapped on stricken Costa cruise liner just weeks after son escaped from sister ship Concordia”. It’s a British family: Rebecca Thomas, 23, is aboard the Allegra; James, 19, helped form a “human ladder” so passengers could escape the Concordia six weeks ago.
-KORAN-BURNING REPORT…From Nick SCHIFRIN in Kabul: a looming ISAF investigation into the Koran burning will be seen as a big deal here: everyone is waiting for proof that the Americans are going to hold someone accountable. The ISAF investigation into the Interior Ministry shooting will likely be released this weekend. I don’t anticipate that being very newsworthy; it will likely just confirm that the shooter was the Afghan we’ve already named. President Karzai is holding off on releasing any kind of detailed investigation of his own until ISAF releases its report.
-KARZAI LETTERS…Also from SCHIFRIN: Karzai is writing letters to the families of the 4 Americans killed during the Quran burning, his spokesman says. The letters will likely go out tonight local time or tomorrow. We’ll pass them along when we get them.
PAKISTAN, BIN LADEN & WIKILEAKS
The BBC is reporting that an e-mail from a senior Stratfor employee to colleagues is quoted as saying: “Mid to senior level ISI and Pak Mil with one retired Pak Mil General that had knowledge of the OBL arrangements and safe house.” The message goes on to say that the names and specific ranks of these generals were unknown to him, but adds that he believes US intelligence had that information. This from the lastest Wikileaks dump.
-64 BODIES FOUND NEAR HOMS…The bodies of dozens of men were found dumped on wasteland on the outskirts of the stricken city of Homs Monday in what appeared to be one of the worst instances of mass killing since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began last March. The Washington Post reports that the Local Coordination Committees, an opposition group, said that the bodies of 64 men were taken to the National Hospital in Homs and that an unknown number of women and children who had been with them are missing. Activists said they thought that the men had been trying to flee the violence with their families when they were stopped and gunned down by security forces.
-THE INJURED JOURNALISTS…Sunday Times photographer Paul Conroy has been evacuated from the besieged Syrian city of Homs and is in neighboring Lebanon, diplomats say. He was smuggled out of the beseiged Baba Amr district late Monday with help from the Syrian opposition and Free Syria Army fighters, the BBC has been told. Meanwhile, Simon McGREGOR-WOOD notes that wounded French journalist Edith Bouvier is still in Homs – Al Jazeera quoting the French ambassador in Lebanon saying Bouvier’s injuries are more serious and she couldn’t take the same route as the British photographer. Alex MARQUARDT reports the activist group Avaaz says they coordinated the operation to get Paul Controy out but that the other three – Bouvier, Javier Espinosa and William Daniels – are believed to still be in Baba Amr.
ISRAEL, IRAN + THE U.S.
-ISRAELIS: WE WON’T TELL YOU…Israeli officials say they won’t warn the U.S. if they decide to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. A U.S. intelligence official tells the AP that Israel warned it will keep the Americans in the dark, to decrease the likelihood that Americans would be held responsible for failing to stop Israel’s potential attack. Israel’s Prime Minister and Defense Minister delivered the message to top-level U.S. visitors to Israel in recent weeks, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House national security adviser and the director of national intelligence. As Martha RADDATZ notes – the White House doesn’t necessarily want a heads-up – better, this thinking goes, to say they didn’t know it was happening, to distance the U.S. (at least a little) from fury that would follow.
-U.S. CONSIDERS NEW MESSAGE…Complaints from Israel about the U.S.’s public engagement with Iran have pushed the White House to consider more forcefully outlining potential military actions, and the “red lines” Iran must not cross, as soon as this weekend, the Wall Street Journal reports. President Obama could use a speech on Sunday before a powerful pro-Israel lobby to more clearly define U.S. policy on military action against Iran in advance of his meeting on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Journal says.
-THREE MILLION TONS OF DEBRIS…Tsunami waves generated by the magnitude-9 earthquake in Japan last March dragged 3-4 million tons of debris into the ocean after tearing up Japanese harbors and homes. Scientists believe ocean currents are carrying some of the lumber, refrigerators, fishing boats and other objects across the Pacific toward the U.S. the Associated Press reports.
-OFFICIALS CONSIDERED EVACUATING TOKYO…In the darkest moments of last year’s nuclear accident, Japanese leaders did not know the actual extent of damage at the plant and secretly considered the possibility of evacuating Tokyo, even as they tried to play down the risks in public, an independent investigation into the accident disclosed on Monday. The investigation by the Rebuild Japan Initiative Foundation, a new private policy organization, offers one of the most vivid accounts yet of how Japan teetered on the edge of an even larger nuclear crisis than the one that engulfed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. A team of 30 university professors, lawyers and journalists spent more than six months on the inquiry into Japan’s response to the triple meltdown at the plant.
PAKISTAN: GUNMEN KILL 18 PEOPLE ON A BUS
Police say gunmen have killed 18 passengers traveling on a bus in northwestern Pakistan. The incident occurred Tuesday in the remote mountainous village of Harban Nala in Kohistan district. Police say the bus was traveling to Gilgit when the gunmen attacked it and shot the passengers. It was unclear what the motive was, but in the past Sunni extremists have killed Shia Muslims in that part of Pakistan.
GERMAN COURT LIMITS EURO PANEL’S POWERS
One of those seemingly obscure headlines that could impact markets: Germany’s highest court has limited the powers of a special parliamentary panel set up to make quick decisions on the use of the eurozone rescue fund. The Federal Constitutional Court ruled Tuesday the nine-lawmaker committee can decide only on purchases of government bonds on the secondary market.
COLONIALISM IN AFRICA…AND AIDS
From the Washington Post: We are unlikely to ever know all the details of the birth of the AIDS epidemic. But a series of recent genetic discoveries have shed new light, starting with the moment when a connection from chimp to human changed the course of history. We now know where the epidemic began: a small patch of dense forest in southeastern Cameroon. We know when: within a couple of decades on either side of 1900. We have a good idea of how: A hunter caught an infected chimpanzee for food, allowing the virus to pass from the chimp’s blood into the hunter’s body, probably through a cut during butchering. As to the why, here is where the story gets even more fascinating, and terrible. We typically think of diseases in terms of how they threaten us personally. But they have their own stories. Diseases are born. They grow. They falter, and sometimes they die. In every case these changes happen for reasons. For decades nobody knew the reasons behind the birth of the AIDS epidemic. But it is now clear that the epidemic’s birth and crucial early growth happened during Africa’s colonial era, amid massive intrusion of new people and technology into a land where ancient ways still prevailed.
CHINESE ARCHITECT WINS TOP PRIZE
Chinese architect Wang Shu is now in the company of Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano and Eduardo Souto de Moura. Wang has been awarded this year’s Pritzker Architecture Prize – the “Nobel Prize of Architecture” – becoming the first Chinese citizen to receive it. Wang is being recognized for the museums, libraries and other structures of his designed across China that employ striking aesthetics and environmental sustainability. ”The fact that an architect from China has been selected by the jury, represents a significant step in acknowledging the role that China will play in the development of architectural ideals,” Thomas J. Pritzker said in a statement. “In addition, over the coming decades, China’s success at urbanization will be important to China and to the world.”. He will be awarded $100,000 at a ceremony in Beijing in May. This is a sampling of his work.