Australia signs $50 bln submarine contract with France after two-year squabble

Former Royal Australian Navy submarine HMAS Onslow is towed past the Sydney Opera House on its way to be refitted at Garden Island naval base in this October 16, 2008 file photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 11 February 2019
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Australia signs $50 bln submarine contract with France after two-year squabble

  • Australia’s 12 new submarines are at the center of its plan to significantly expand its military to protect strategic and trade interests in the Asia-Pacific region

SYDNEY: Australia signed a production contract with French shipbuilder Naval Group on Monday for a fleet of 12 new submarines, worth A$50 billion ($35.5 billion), ending a two-year wrangle that cast doubt over one of the world’s most lucrative defense deals.
Australia selected the French builder as its preferred bidder for the fleet of submarines in 2016 ahead of other offers from Japan and Germany.
However, final contracts were delayed amid domestic media reports of cost blowouts and production delays.
Australia and Naval Group signed a Strategic Partnering Agreement, the overall contract to guide the construction, to end the impasse.
“This means we are ensuring we are at the front of the pack when it comes to the latest naval vessels and firepower,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
Australia’s 12 new submarines are at the center of its plan to significantly expand its military to protect strategic and trade interests in the Asia-Pacific region.
The first of the new submarines is scheduled to be delivered in the early 2030s and the final vessel during the 2050s.
Australia rejected offers from Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, as well as Germany’s ThyssenKrupp AG, when it accepted the French bid. ($1 = 1.4081 Australian dollars)


Scans on US diplomats in Cuba show ‘something happened to the brains’

Dr. Mitchell Valdes-Sosa, General Director of the Cuban Neuroscience Center, speaks during a press conference in Havana, Cuba, on July 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 28 min 27 sec ago
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Scans on US diplomats in Cuba show ‘something happened to the brains’

  • Tablada urged the White House to stop using the issue “as a pretext to impose increasingly aggressive new sanctions” against the Cuban people

WASHINGTON: Brain scans of about 40 US diplomats injured in mysterious circumstances in Cuba reveal visible differences compared to those in a control group, researchers who analyzed them said Tuesday.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and led by professors at the University of Pennsylvania, does not draw any conclusions about the cause of the symptoms suffered by the diplomats from late 2016 into May 2018.
But the MRIs of the patients confirm that “something happened to the brains of these people,” Ragini Verma, a professor of radiology at UPenn and co-author of the study, told AFP.
“It’s not imagined,” she said. “All I can say is that there is a truth to be found.”
Verma added: “Whatever happened was not due to a pre-existing condition, because we test for that.”
From late 2016, diplomats posted in Havana and some of their family members suffered unexplained symptoms ranging from poor balance and vertigo to lack of coordination, unusual eye movements, anxiety and what victims called a “cognitive fog.”
The United States recalled most of its diplomatic personnel from the Cuban capital in September 2017.
Some of them have recovered and returned to work, but others are still undergoing rehab, according to Verma.
The US government never publicly explained the cause of the mysterious illnesses. It neither confirmed nor denied the possibility of attacks using some sort of acoustic weapon, as some US media reported, without offering proof.
Cuba has denied all responsibility for the incidents, which also affected at least 14 Canadian citizens. Ottawa also ended up recalling most of its diplomats from Havana in January.
At the request of the State Department, 44 diplomats and family members were sent from mid-2017 to UPenn’s brain trauma center to undergo MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) exams.
Researchers compared those results with scans from 48 comparable subjects in two control groups. The differences are statistically significant and relate to the brain’s white matter as well as the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls movement.
A State Department spokesman welcomed “the medical community’s discussion on this incredibly complex issue. The Department’s top priority remains the safety, security, and well-being of its staff.”
Verma said it was vital to follow the diplomats and their families over time “to see whether these changes evolve or change.”

Responding to the report, Havana again denied all responsibility in the affair.
The study by the UPenn professors “does not allow clear and final scientific conclusions to be reached,” said Mitchell Valdes-Sosa, head of the Neuroscience Center of Cuba.
Valdes-Sosa told reporters that the study “does not show, contrary to what has been speculated... that the group of diplomats suffered brain damage during their stay in Cuba.”
A senior foreign ministry official in charge of US affairs, Johana Tablada, said that as of now “no evidence exists of any type of attack” against the US diplomats, and called on Washington to stop using that term in such an “irresponsible” way.
Tablada urged the White House to stop using the issue “as a pretext to impose increasingly aggressive new sanctions” against the Cuban people.