700 tons of ammonium nitrate stuck in Indian port

700 tons of ammonium nitrate stuck in Indian port
A mobile crane prepares to stack a container at Chennai Port, southern India, March 16, 2012. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 August 2020

700 tons of ammonium nitrate stuck in Indian port

700 tons of ammonium nitrate stuck in Indian port
  • Indian authorities ordered a review of all potentially hazardous materials in its ports and were alerted to 690 tons of ammonium nitrate in Chennai in southern India
  • Thirty-seven containers of the compound were imported from South Korea in 2015 by an Indian firm for use in fertilizers but were seized after the substance was found to be explosives-grade

NEW DELHI: Almost 700 tons of ammonium nitrate, the substance that caused the mega-explosion in Lebanon, has been stuck in an Indian port since 2015, officials confirmed.
At least 153 people died and more than 5,000 were injured when 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate languishing for years in Beirut’s port caused a colossal blast.
Indian authorities afterwards ordered a review of all potentially hazardous materials in its ports and were alerted to 690 tons of ammonium nitrate in Chennai in southern India.
Thirty-seven containers of the compound were imported from South Korea in 2015 by an Indian firm for use in fertilizers but were seized after the substance was found to be explosives-grade.
The local customs department on Thursday sought to allay concerns, saying that the chemicals posed no danger and that an auction process to sell it off was under way.
“The seized chemical is securely stored and the safety of the cargo and public is ensured considering the hazardous nature of the substance,” a statement said.
Ammonium nitrate is an odourless crystalline salt that has been the cause of numerous industrial explosions over the decades.
When combined with fuel oils, it creates a potent explosive widely used in the construction industry, but also in homemade bombs such as those used in the 1995 Oklahoma City attack.
Many European Union nations require ammonium nitrate to be mixed with calcium carbonate to make a safer compound.
Industrial disasters are common in India. In May, styrene gas leaked from a factory in southern India, killing 15 people.
In 1984, toxic methyl isocyanate leaked from a pesticide factory in Bhopal, killing 3,500 people — and thousands more in the years afterwards — in one of the worst industrial disasters in history.


Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program
Updated 2 min 4 sec ago

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program
  • Priority for age groups and medical vulnerability waived for permanent residents of nearly 100 islands
  • Islanders make up around 1.5 million of Greece’s population of 10.7 million

NAXOS, Greece: A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government announced Tuesday ahead of the launch of the tourism season.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said a nationwide priority system for age groups and medical vulnerability was being waived for permanent residents of nearly 100 islands.
“This initiative is aimed at supporting local island communities and their economy and it also aspires to send a positive overall message for our tourism,” Mitsotakis said.
Greece is fighting to revive its key tourism sector that was battered by the pandemic in 2020 but its vaccination rates remain below the European Union average and the country has only recently stabilized a surge in cases.
Islanders make up around 1.5 million of Greece’s population of 10.7 million. Many holiday islands have a year-round population of under 10,000, while Crete has the largest with more than 600,000 residents, followed by Evia, Rhodes, Corfu, Lesbos, and Chios. The tourism season will officially start Friday.


Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday

Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday
Updated 11 May 2021

Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday

Sweden reports 13,812 new COVID-19 cases, 44 deaths since Friday
  • Sweden of 10 million inhabitants registered 44 new deaths, taking the total to 14,217
  • The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks

STOCKHOLM: Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, has registered 13,812 new coronavirus cases since Friday, health agency statistics showed on Tuesday.
The figure compared with 14,950 cases during the corresponding period last week.
The country of 10 million inhabitants registered 44 new deaths, taking the total to 14,217.
The deaths registered have occurred over several days and sometimes weeks.
Sweden’s death rate per capita is many times higher than that of its Nordic neighbors’ but lower than in most European countries that opted for lockdowns.


At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting

At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting
Updated 11 May 2021

At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting

At least 9 dead in Russian high school shooting
  • RIA Novosti news agency reported that a teenager was detained
  • Local officials said some children were evacuated from the school but others still remained in the building

MOSCOW: A school shooting erupted Tuesday in the Russian city of Kazan, leaving eight students and one teacher dead, Russia’s state RIA Novosti news agency reported, citing local emergency services.
According to the Interfax news agency, two gunmen opened fire in the school, and one of them — a 17-year-old — has already been apprehended.

“According to preliminary information, the second attacker in the school in Kazan who remained in the building was killed,” the TASS state news agency reported, citing a law enforcement source.
Local officials said some children were evacuated from the school but others still remained in the building. Authorities said additional security measures have been put into place in all schools in Kazan, the capital of Russia’s Tatarstan region, roughly 700 kilometers (430 miles) east of Moscow.
While school shootings are relatively rare in Russia, there have been several violent attacks on schools in recent years, mostly carried out by students.


India’s seven-day COVID-19 average at new high, WHO issues warning on strain

India’s seven-day COVID-19 average at new high, WHO issues warning on strain
Updated 11 May 2021

India’s seven-day COVID-19 average at new high, WHO issues warning on strain

India’s seven-day COVID-19 average at new high, WHO issues warning on strain
  • The seven-day average of new cases is at a record high of 390,995

BENGALURU: India’s coronavirus crisis showed scant sign of easing on Tuesday, with a seven-day average of new cases at a record high and international heath authorities warning the country’s variant of the virus poses a global concern.
India’s daily coronavirus cases rose by 329,942, while deaths from the disease rose by 3,876, according to the health ministry. India’s total coronavirus infections are now at 22.99 million, while total fatalities rose to 249,992.
India leads the world in the daily average number of new deaths reported, accounting for one in every three deaths reported worldwide each day, according to a Reuters tally.
The seven-day average of new cases is at a record high of 390,995.
The World Health Organization said the coronavirus variant first identified in the country last year was being classified as a variant of global concern, with some preliminary studies showing that it spreads more easily.
“We are classifying this as a variant of concern at a global level,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on COVID-19, told a briefing in Geneva on Monday. “There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility.” Nations around the globe have sent oxygen cylinders and other medical gear to support India’s crisis, but many hospitals around the nation are struggling with a shortage of the life-saving equipment.
Eleven people died late on Monday in a government hospital in Tirupati, a city in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, due to a delay in the arrival of a tanker carrying oxygen, a government official said.
“There were issues with oxygen pressure due to low availability. It all happened within a span of five minutes,” said M Harinarayan, the district’s top bureaucrat said late on Monday, adding the SVR Ruia hospital now had sufficient oxygen.
Sixteen faculty members and a number of retired teachers and employees who had been living on the campus of Aligarh Muslim University, one of India’s most prestigious, had died of coronavirus, the university said.
Adding to the strain on medical facilities, the Indian government has told doctors to look out for signs of mucormycosis or “black fungus” in COVID-19 patients as hospitals report a rise in cases of the rare but potentially fatal infection.
The disease, which can lead to blackening or discoloration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing blood, is strongly linked to diabetes. And diabetes can in turn be exacerbated by steroids such as dexamethasone, used to treat severe COVID-19.
Doctors in the country had to warn against the practice of using cow dung in the belief it will ward off COVID-19, saying there is no scientific evidence for its effectiveness and that it risks spreading other diseases.
In the state of Gujarat in western India, some believers have been going to cow shelters once a week to cover their bodies in cow dung and urine in the hope it will boost their immunity against, or help them recover from, the coronavirus.
“There is no concrete scientific evidence that cow dung or urine work to boost immunity against COVID-19, it is based entirely on belief,” said Dr. J.A. Jayalal, national president at the Indian Medical Association.
India’s second wave has increased calls for a nationwide lockdown and prompted a growing number of states to impose tougher restrictions, impacting businesses and the wider economy.
Production of the Apple iPhone 12 at a Foxconn factory in the southern state of Tamil Nadu has slumped by more than 50 percent because workers infected with COVID-19 have had to leave their posts, two sources told Reuters.
(Reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee, Anuron Kumar Mitra, Kannaki Deka, Manas Mishra in Bengaluru and Sudarshan Varadhan in Chennai; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)


Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai

Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai
Updated 11 May 2021

Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai

Security experts downplay uranium discovery in Mumbai

NEW DELHI: Experts said on Monday that a discovery of uranium was no cause for concern as it did not pose a security threat.
The comments came a day after India’s counterterrorism organization, the National Investigative Agency (NIA), took over the probe of a case involving the recovery of more than 7kg of natural uranium in Mumbai.
“I see a remote possibility of such uranium being misused to pose a threat to the nation,” Rajiv Nayan, a New Delhi-based expert on nonproliferation and arms control at the Manohar Parrikar Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) think tank, told Arab News.
“Theoretically, the possibility of misuse is there, but only details will tell when the persons reveal why they were carrying the natural uranium,” Nayan added.
On May 5, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) in the western Indian state of Maharashtra arrested two individuals for the possession of 7.1 kg of natural uranium worth $3 million in Mumbai.
The ATS lodged a case against Jigar Jayesh Pandya, 27, and Abu Tahir Afzal Choudhary, 31, before sending the samples to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai — India’s premier nuclear research facility — for testing.
On Thursday, the BARC confirmed that the substance was natural uranium.
According to officials, the duo was attempting to sell the uranium online when the ATS sent a fake customer and secured a substance sample. On Sunday, the NIA took control of the case and registered it under Section 24(1)(a) of the Atomic Energy Act (1962), which makes the possession of uranium without a license illegal and invites stringent punishment.
Both the ATS and the NIA were unavailable for comment when contacted by Arab News on Monday. However, according to media reports, Tahir’s father owns a scrapyard in the Mankhurd area of Mumbai and bought a truck full of factory waste two years ago. The uranium was reportedly among other forms of industrial waste found on the vehicle. This is not the first time authorities have recovered the radioactive material, with Ajay Sahni, a New Delhi-based security expert and director of the Institute for Conflict Management, saying that “such seizures of uranium have taken place.”
Sahni told Arab News: “In the late 1990s or early 2000s, a couple of scrap dealers had picked up quantities of uranium and arrested them. These are low-level people who have accidentally come across a certain amount of uranium and hope to make a little bit of money out of it.”
He added: “I don’t think it raises any basic question of critical security importance. It raises questions of how such material is handled and safeguarded in the country.”
However, he warned that “if it falls into the wrong hands it can be used for very dangerous ends.
“We don’t know the details. It could depend on the nature of individuals and possible connections with terrorists or whether this could have been acquired by terrorists.
“They are not interested in using it for any particular purpose, or they were trying to make money. It depends where something like this goes.”
Sahni termed the find as a “failure” of India’s security system to manage or guard the uranium flow.
“This is a failure of the security system, but it is not easy to say whether it represents a major security failure,” he added.