OPEC+ sticks to modest boost in oil output despite omicron

A 3D printed oil pump jack is seen in front of displayed OPEC logo in this illustration picture. (Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo)
A 3D printed oil pump jack is seen in front of displayed OPEC logo in this illustration picture. (Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo)
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Updated 02 December 2021

OPEC+ sticks to modest boost in oil output despite omicron

OPEC+ sticks to modest boost in oil output despite omicron

NEW YORK: OPEC and allied oil-producing countries decided Thursday to maintain the amount of oil they pump to the world even as the new omicron variant casts a shadow of uncertainty over the global economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
Officials from OPEC countries, led by Saudi Arabia, and their allies, led by Russia, voted to stick with a pre-omicron pattern of steady, modest monthly increases in oil releases — a pace that has frustrated the United States and other oil-consuming nations as gasoline prices rise.
The OPEC+ alliance approved an increase in production of 400,000 barrels per day for the month of January.
The fast-mutating variant led countries to impose travel restrictions when it emerged late last week. In a worst-case scenario, lockdowns triggered by omicron could cut oil demand by nearly 3 million barrels per day in early 2022, according to projections by Rystad Energy.
Positive news about drugs to treat the variant or the vaccines’ effectiveness against it could improve that outlook. But even with positive news, a decrease in oil demand is likely because “the distribution of these remedies may not actually reach all markets with extreme immediacy, which would still necessitate the lockdowns in much of the developing world,” said Louise Dickson, senior oil markets analyst for Rystad.
The price of a barrel of US benchmark crude fell with news of the variant and then fell further as OPEC+ revealed it wasn’t going to curtail production. It was about $78 a barrel a week ago and was trading at about $66 a barrel Thursday. International benchmark Brent crude followed a similar path, falling from $79 a barrel a week ago to about $69 on Thursday.
The decision by OPEC+ to stay the course sends a signal that “the group does what it says and that they will continue their policy on their own terms,” Dickson said. “It also really signals that OPEC+ needs a bit more time to really dig into the numbers on the omicron variant.”
Some analysts had predicted that the OPEC+ alliance — made up of OPEC members and allied non-members like Russia — would act cautiously Thursday, pending more clarity from medical experts on the new variant.
Before omicron’s appearance, the OPEC+ meeting had been shaping up as a potentially fraught moment in a growing dispute between oil-supplying nations and oil-consuming ones, as the global economy rebounds from the worst of the pandemic downturn and demand for oil surged.
Angering the US and its allies, OPEC+ has stuck to a plan to open the petroleum taps bit by bit — even as oil prices surged to seven-year highs — until deep production cuts made during the depths of the pandemic are restored.
With rising gas prices putting him under political pressure at home, President Joe Biden last week responded to OPEC’s refusal to increase supplies more quickly by announcing the US and other nations would release tens of millions of barrels of oil from their strategic reserves, boosting supplies and temporarily lowering prices. But gasoline prices in the US barely moved.
And then, omicron’s emergence unsettled those dynamics.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that there are no plans to slow releases from strategic reserves, despite the advent of the variant and OPEC’s decision.
“We welcome the decision today to continue the 400,000 barrels-per-day increase,” Psaki said. “We believe this should help facilitate the global economic recovery.”
OPEC+ will meet again Jan. 4.


Pandemic hasn’t slowed China’s love for US lobster

A lobster rears its claws after being caught off Spruce Head, Maine, Aug. 31, 2021. (AP)
A lobster rears its claws after being caught off Spruce Head, Maine, Aug. 31, 2021. (AP)
Updated 27 min 22 sec ago

Pandemic hasn’t slowed China’s love for US lobster

A lobster rears its claws after being caught off Spruce Head, Maine, Aug. 31, 2021. (AP)
  • American exporters sent more than 13.2 million pounds (6 million kilograms) of lobster to China during the first 11 months of 2021

PORTLAND, Maine: China is showing no signs of slowing its demand for American lobster this year despite disruption to the supply chain and international trade caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Chinese demand for the crustaceans grew dramatically during the 2010s in part because of the expansion of the country’s middle class. The lobsters are especially sought after in winter because they are a popular delicacy on Chinese New Year, which is Feb. 1 this year.
American exporters sent more than 13.2 million pounds (6 million kilograms) of lobster to China during the first 11 months of 2021. That was about 6 percent more than the same time period the previous year.
The pandemic has made the already difficult task of sending live seafood across the globe more challenging, but Maine lobster exporters are gearing up for a decent Chinese New Year, said Bill Bruns. The operations manager at The Lobster Co. in Arundel said shipments are complicated by the fact the company can’t send lobsters to Beijing because of COVID-19 restrictions — but they are able to send to other airports, such as Shenzhen.
“Chinese New Year is always a crapshoot the last couple years,” Bruns said. “But I’m prepared for it. I have the staff. Because otherwise it’s going to be a long spring.”
China buys lobsters from the US — where the industry is based mostly in Maine — and Canada, where the industry is situated in the Atlantic provinces. Exports from Canada were up even more than the US the first 11 months of 2021 compared to 2020, said John Sackton, an industry analyst and founder of SeafoodNews.com.
Signs point to a strong season for the industry, Sackton said. Consumption of seafood could also get a boost from the Beijing Winter Olympics, which are set to start a few days after Chinese New Year, he said.
“I’ve seen nothing that consumption of lobsters at Chinese New Year this year won’t exceed last year’s,” Sackton said.
The US lobster industry weathered similar challenges during the first year of the pandemic in 2020 and ultimately had a strong export season. The value of exports was down from the record year of 2018, but still well over $100 million.
High prices for lobsters have played a role in the value of this year’s exports. The price of a live 1.25-pound hard shell lobster was $11.25 per pound in New England this month, according to business publishing company Urner Barry. That was more than a third higher than January 2021.
To send lobsters to China, American and Canadian fishermen have to trap them in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Bad weather has made that difficult for Maine fishermen this year, but harvesters are still having a decent winter on the water, said Kristan Porter, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.
“When guys get out there, they are doing OK,” Porter said. “It takes someone hardier than me to fish the wintertime.”


First death in Tonga volcano blast as nation remains cut off

A plume rises over Tonga after the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai erupted in this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency on January 15, 2022. (REUTERS)
A plume rises over Tonga after the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai erupted in this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency on January 15, 2022. (REUTERS)
Updated 40 min 1 sec ago

First death in Tonga volcano blast as nation remains cut off

A plume rises over Tonga after the underwater volcano Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai erupted in this satellite image taken by Himawari-8, a Japanese weather satellite operated by Japan Meteorological Agency on January 15, 2022. (REUTERS)
  • The first known death in Tonga itself was confirmed: that of a British woman swept away by the tsunami

SYDNEY: The first death from a massive underwater volcanic blast near the Pacific island nation of Tonga has been confirmed, as the extent of the damage remained unknown Monday.
Tonga remained virtually cut off from the rest of the world, after the eruption crippled communications and stalled emergency relief efforts.
It is two days since the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano exploded, cloaking Tonga in a film of ash, triggering a Pacific-wide tsunami and releasing shock waves that wrapped around the entire Earth.
But with phone lines still down and an undersea Internet cable cut — and not expected to be repaired for weeks — the true toll of the dual eruption-tsunami disaster is not yet known.
The first known death in Tonga itself was confirmed: that of a British woman swept away by the tsunami. She was identified as Angela Glover, 50, who lived in the Tonga capital with her husband James, Glover’s brother Nick Eleini told British media.
Two women also drowned Saturday in northern Peru in big waves recorded after the volcanic blast, authorities there said.
Only fragments of information have filtered out via a handful of satellite phones on the islands, home to just over 100,000 people.
In one of the few communications with the outside world, two stranded Mexican marine biologists made a plea for help from their government, using a satellite phone provided by the British embassy to call their family.
“They said they were sheltering in a hotel near the airport and they asked us for help to leave the island,” Amelia Nava, the sister of 34-year-old Leslie Nava, told AFP in Mexico.
Tonga’s worried neighbors are still scrambling to grasp the scale of the damage, which New Zealand’s leader Jacinda Ardern said was believed to be “significant.”
Both Wellington and Canberra scrambled reconnaissance planes Monday in an attempt to get a sense of the damage from the air.
And both have put C-130 military transport aircraft on standby to drop emergency supplies or to land if runways are deemed operational and ash clouds allow.
There are initial reports that areas of Tonga’s west coast may have been badly hit.
Australia’s international development minister, Zed Seselja, said a small contingent of Australian police stationed in Tonga had delivered a “pretty concerning” initial evaluation.
They were “able to do an assessment of some of the Western beaches area and there was some pretty significant damage to things like roads and some houses,” Seselja said.
“One of the good pieces of news is that I understand the airport has not suffered any significant damage,” he added.
“That will be very, very important as the ash cloud clears and we are able to have flights coming into Tonga for humanitarian purposes.”
Major aid agencies, who would usually rush in to provide emergency humanitarian relief, said they were stuck in a holding pattern, unable to contact local staff.
“From what little updates we have, the scale of the devastation could be immense — especially for outlying islands,” said Katie Greenwood, IFRC’s Pacific Head of Delegation.
Even when relief efforts get under way, they may be complicated by Covid-19 entry restrictions. Tonga only recently reported its first-ever coronavirus case.

France, which has territories in the South Pacific, pledged to help the people of Tonga.
“France is willing to respond to the population’s most urgent needs,” the foreign ministry said. This assistance would be provided through a humanitarian aid mechanism with Australia and New Zealand that is known as FRANZ, the ministry added.
What is known is that Saturday’s volcanic blast was one the largest recorded in decades, erupting 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) into the air and depositing ash, gas and acid rain across a swathe of the Pacific.
The eruption was recorded around the world and heard as far away as Alaska, triggering a tsunami that flooded Pacific coastlines from Japan to the United States.
The Tongan capital Nuku’alofa was estimated to be cloaked in 1-2 centimeters of ash, potentially poisoning water supplies and causing breathing difficulties.
“We know water is an immediate need,” Ardern told reporters.
After speaking to the New Zealand embassy in Tonga, she described how boats and “large boulders” washed ashore.
Wellington’s defense minister said he understood the island nation had managed to restore power in “large parts” of the city.
But communications were still cut. The eruption severed an undersea communications cable between Tonga and Fiji that operators said would take weeks to repair.
“We’re getting sketchy information, but it looks like the cable has been cut,” Southern Cross Cable Network’s networks director Dean Veverka told AFP.
“It could take up to two weeks to get it repaired. The nearest cable-laying vessel is in Port Moresby,” he added, referring to the Papua New Guinea capital more than 4,000 kilometers from Tonga.
Tonga was isolated for two weeks in 2019 when a ship’s anchor cut the cable. A small, locally operated satellite service was set up to allow minimal contact with the outside world until the cable could be repaired.


Saudi Public Prosecution warns of harsh penalties for spreading rumors

Saudi Public Prosecution warns of harsh penalties for spreading rumors
Updated 48 min 35 sec ago

Saudi Public Prosecution warns of harsh penalties for spreading rumors

Saudi Public Prosecution warns of harsh penalties for spreading rumors
  • Anybody caught making false statements about matters ‘related to public order’ face up to five years in jail and a SR3 million fine
  • This includes anyone who spreads false information on social media, especially lies that originate from hostile sources in other countries

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Public Prosecution said on Monday that spreading rumors or lies about any matter “related to public order” is considered a serious crime in the Kingdom and anyone caught doing so faces arrest and tough penalties.
The authority added that in accordance with the Law on Combating Information Crimes and the Law of Criminal Procedures, this includes individuals who promote or participate in spreading false information in any form on social media, especially fabrications that originate from hostile sources in other countries.
The Public Prosecution said that while monitoring accounts on social-networking sites it had found some that were creating or spreading baseless rumors about a Riyadh Season music event that had been postponed. The false information was coordinated and supported by external, hostile parties who were responsible for most of the posts, the authority added.
It added that individuals in the Kingdom who had participated in spreading the rumors had been “summoned” and criminal charges are being brought against them.
“These actions result in heavy penalties of up to five years imprisonment and a fine of SR3 million ($800,000),” the Public Prosecution said. In addition, devices and tools used to commit such crimes will be confiscated, the final ruling is made public and action can be taken against anyone who incited, assisted or agreed to commit the crime, the authority added.
It urged all citizens and residents to obtain information only from official sources and not to engage with rumors on social media. Those who fail to heed the warning risk facing the maximum penalties prescribed by law, it added.


Dutch police find body of abducted Belgian boy

Dutch police find body of abducted Belgian boy
Updated 57 min ago

Dutch police find body of abducted Belgian boy

Dutch police find body of abducted Belgian boy
  • The body of four-year-old Dean Verberckmoes was found in the southern Dutch Zeeland province

THE HAGUE: Dutch police late Monday discovered the body of a Belgian child, whose disappearance five days ago sparked a massive search spanning two countries.
The body of four-year-old Dean Verberckmoes was found in the southern Dutch Zeeland province after a man was arrested elsewhere in the Netherlands earlier during the day, police said.
“We thank everybody who helped and are sending condolences to his family,” they added.
Police said the body was discovered at Neeltje Jans, an island that forms part of the Oosterschelde flood barrier and is popular with Dutch tourists.
Police earlier on Monday also sent out a so-called Amber Alert — issued in child abduction cases — with the description of the toddler and a picture.
The alert came after police arrested a 34-year-old Belgian man in the town of Meerkerk, south of Utrecht, about 120 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Neeltje Jans.
Verberckmoes was last seen in the Belgian city of Sint Niklaas near Antwerp on Wednesday in the company of the man, only identified as Dave De K., the NOS public broadcaster reported.
De K. regularly minded Dean and his younger sister, the toddler’s mother told the Belga news agency.
The man was supposed to take the child to his grandparents on Thursday and when that did not happen the mother reported him missing.
Dutch police launched a massive search after at became known that De K. and the toddler may be in the Netherlands.
“The police investigation pointed to a possible crime scene on Monday evening... and a police helicopter also joined the search,” Dutch police said.
“Around 10.00 p.m. (2100 GMT) the lifeless body of a child was found,” police said.


Saudi Arabia, UAE, UK and US to continue joint efforts to support Sudan

Saudi Arabia, UAE, UK and US to continue joint efforts to support Sudan
Updated 18 January 2022

Saudi Arabia, UAE, UK and US to continue joint efforts to support Sudan

Saudi Arabia, UAE, UK and US to continue joint efforts to support Sudan

RIYADH: The Sudanese quartet on Monday affirmed its commitment to continue joint efforts to achieve lasting stability in Sudan, a statement on Saudi Press Agency said.
Representatives of the quartet — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Britain and the US — held a meeting at the Kingdom’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Riyadh to discuss developments in Sudan.
The quartet also affirmed that it would continue to implement the reform agenda, provide support to Sudan, and support the UN Integrated Transitional Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS).