Philippines takes command of counter-piracy task force in Bahrain

Philippines takes command of counter-piracy task force in Bahrain
Philippine Navy Capt. Mateo Carido delivers his remarks during the turnover ceremony assuming command of multinational Combined Task Force 151 in Manama, Bahrain. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 August 2023

Philippines takes command of counter-piracy task force in Bahrain

Philippines takes command of counter-piracy task force in Bahrain
  • Task force works under Combined Maritime Forces, which include Saudi Arabia, US, Japan
  • Security operations cover 3.2m square miles, including globally important shipping lanes

MANILA: The Philippine Navy this week took the lead in efforts to prevent piracy attacks near the Arabian Gulf after it assumed command of a multinational response task force in Bahrain for the first time.

A 38-member multinational partnership known as Combined Maritime Forces established the so-called Combined Task Force 151 in 2009 to conduct maritime security operations aimed at countering piracy and armed robberies at sea. 
Saudi Arabia, the US and Japan are also members of the CMF, which is headquartered at the US Navy base in Bahrain. Operations target terrorism, drug-trafficking, smuggling and other illegal activities.
“It is the first time for the Philippine Navy to command CTF 151, a very rare opportunity given to us,” Eduard Pablico, public affairs officer of the Philippine Navy, told Arab News on Wednesday. 
“Piracy remains suppressed, but not eradicated, within the Combined Maritime Forces area of operations. It means that there are existing factors which detrimentally affect legitimate trade and may cause the re-emergence of piracy if not sustained.” 
CTF 151 was set up in response to piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off the eastern coast of Somalia that posed a threat to international fishing vessels and shipping. The force operates across about 3.2 million square miles of international waters, including some of the world’s most important shipping lanes.
Leadership of the task force is rotated among member nations. The Philippine Navy assumed command after the South Korean Navy, which was in charge between February and August 2023. 
During the change-of-command ceremony in Bahrain on Monday, CMF Deputy Commander Cmdr. Philip Dennis welcomed Philippine Navy Capt. Mateo Carido as the new commander of CTF 151.
The task force quoted him as saying that “the Republic of the Philippines makes history, taking command of CTF 151 for the very first time.”
Carido will lead a team of seven Philippine Navy officers supported by 11 officers and two enlisted personnel from 13 CMF member states.

World not prepared for another pandemic: Moderna chairman

World not prepared for another pandemic: Moderna chairman
Updated 07 December 2023

World not prepared for another pandemic: Moderna chairman

World not prepared for another pandemic: Moderna chairman
  • Dr. Noubar Afeyan speaks at Advanced Tomorrow 2023 Singapore Summit
  • Development of Moderna’s vaccine against COVID-19 was matter of ‘luck’

SINGAPORE: The world is not prepared to face another pandemic, the co-founder and chairman of Moderna said, as insufficient attention was being paid globally to health system resilience.

Dr. Noubar Afeyan, a biochemical engineer who co-founded the US-based drugmaker in 2010, was speaking at the Advanced Tomorrow 2023 Summit held in Singapore on Dec. 3 to 6.

Organized and co-hosted by the Advanced Tomorrow, or ATOM, initiative and Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine of the National University of Singapore, the meeting of global political, business, and academic leaders focused on the future of healthcare amid geopolitical changes and technological advancements.

During a discussion on the ability of health systems to prepare for shocks and global disruptions such as the global outbreak of coronavirus in 2020, Afeyan, whose company’s COVID-19 vaccine became the second one to get cleared for use in the US, said the quick release of jabs may have given “the wrong impression” of resilience.

“We got lucky, because it so happened that this virus was amenable to an intervention that the company that I co-founded, Moderna, had developed a technology for,” he said.

A similar technology was developed by Pfizer, whose vaccine against COVID-19 was the first to receive a green light from the US Food and Drug Administration. But the fact that what both companies worked on at the time ended up being useful in addressing the coronavirus outbreak was accidental and will not help if the next health crisis is caused by a completely different pathogen.

“There will be other threats, for example, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, that this technology is not going to work for,” Afeyan added. “We have no good solutions for that right now. So, if there’s a major bacterial outbreak through the food system, through any other means, we’d be really gambling that we can come up with something quickly.”

The problem with preparedness was in both attention and funding worldwide being directed not toward long-term health security but to short-term solutions.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of attention paid to resilience because resilience always gathers momentum after there’s been a failure,” Afeyan said. “As soon as the failure is forgotten, resilience goes out of the window.”

Dr. Armen Sarkissian, former president of Armenia and theoretical physicist who chairs ATOM, said on the sidelines of the Singapore conference that current approaches were like betting on an uncertain outcome, with success depending only on luck.

“We are at a crossroads of a huge number of problems. One problem, for example, is the resistance to antibiotics ... We were lucky that 100 years ago, by accident again, (Scottish physician and microbiologist) Mr. (Alexander) Fleming found penicillin, but we have overused penicillin and related drugs,” Sarkissian told Arab News.

He noted that it was necessary to pay more attention to health security and realize that in the 21st century the ongoing climate crisis and the related problems of food security and water scarcity were not the only ones, with a possible health crisis likely to be even bigger than the former.

“We on this planet need definitely, first of all, a holistic approach to our health. Secondly, raising awareness, money, and support to health-related research — biological, biophysical sciences, and so on — and to accelerate the process to find solutions to many possible problems that we are going to face,” he said.

“It’s time that we look inside ourselves, care about ourselves alongside the planet. So, I will put together, with climate care, healthcare, climate security with health security. And the international community has to come together, under the United Nations, in the form of a COP (the Conference of the Parties, which is the annual Climate Change Conference), and we’ll see what we can do together.”

Russian lawmakers set presidential vote for March 17, 2024

Russian lawmakers set presidential vote for March 17, 2024
Updated 07 December 2023

Russian lawmakers set presidential vote for March 17, 2024

Russian lawmakers set presidential vote for March 17, 2024
  • Vladimir Putin widely expected to announce his intention to run again in coming days
  • The March election clears the way for him to remain in power at least until 2030

MOSCOW: Russian lawmakers on Thursday set the date of the 2024 presidential election for March 17, moving Vladimir Putin closer to a fifth term in office.
Putin, 71, hasn’t yet announced his intention to run again, but he is widely expected to do so in the coming days now that the date has been set.
Under constitutional reforms he orchestrated, he is eligible to seek two more six-year terms after his current one expires next year.
Having established tight control over Russia’s political system, Putin’s victory is all but assured. Prominent critics who could challenge him on the ballot are either in jail or living abroad, and most independent media have been banned.
Neither the costly, drawn-out military campaign in Ukraine, nor a failed rebellion last summer by mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin appear to have affected his high approval ratings reported by independent pollsters.
The March election clears the way for him to remain in power at least until 2030.

EU’s von der Leyen tells Xi differences must be addressed

EU’s von der Leyen tells Xi differences must be addressed
Updated 07 December 2023

EU’s von der Leyen tells Xi differences must be addressed

EU’s von der Leyen tells Xi differences must be addressed
  • China and the EU ramp up diplomatic engagement this year in attempt to steer post-pandemic recovery and repair damaged ties
  • The bloc says it hopes the meetings will provide a chance to discuss areas of common interest

BEIJING: EU President Ursula von der Leyen told Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday that the bloc and its biggest trading partner must address their differences, as they began the first in-person EU-China summit in over four years.
China and the EU have ramped up diplomatic engagement this year in an attempt to steer post-pandemic recovery and repair damaged ties, with a number of its commissioners visiting Beijing to restart high-level dialogue.
And in opening remarks, von der Leyen, flanked by European Council President Charles Michel and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, thanked Xi for the “warm welcome” on what is her second trip to China this year.
“But there are clear imbalances and differences that we must address,” she said.
“At times our interests coincide,” she said, pointing to EU-China cooperation on artificial intelligence and climate change.
“And when they do not, we need to address and responsibly manage the concerns that we have,” she said.
Michel, in turn, said the bloc was seeking a “stable and mutually beneficial” relationship with China.
But, he said, the EU would also “promote our European values including human rights and democracy” at the summit.
The bloc says it hopes the meetings will provide a chance to discuss areas of common interest.
In his opening remarks, President Xi told his European visitors they must “jointly respond to global challenges.”
Thursday’s talks are set to address more touchy topics too, from human rights and Beijing’s continued ties with Russia despite its war in Ukraine to the yawning EU-China trade gap.
Von der Leyen warned this week that the bloc would “not tolerate” that imbalance indefinitely.
“We have tools to protect our market,” she told AFP.
Beijing hit back on Wednesday, saying the bloc’s efforts to curb exports of sensitive tech to China while balancing trade didn’t “make sense.”
European officials have said repeatedly this year they aim to “derisk” their economic ties to China after the war in Ukraine exposed the continent’s energy dependence on Russia.

Beijing’s goal this week will be to “hinder or delay derisking at a minimum cost,” Grzegorz Stec, an analyst at China-focused think tank MERICS, told a media briefing Wednesday.
Beijing will attempt to “project the image of a responsible global actor and to reassure European actors about the direction of the Chinese economy,” Stec said.
But on the eve of the summit, news broke that Italy had withdrawn from China’s vast Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.
Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has long been opposed to Italy’s participation in an initiative viewed by many as an attempt by Beijing to buy political influence — and whose economic benefits to Rome were limited.
Also on the agenda at the summit will be the fighting between Israel and Hamas — as well as Russia’s war in Ukraine.
China, which has not condemned Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of its neighbor, welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin to Beijing in October, with Xi hailing their “deep friendship.”
Such camaraderie is unlikely in Thursday’s talks with EU leaders, who one analyst said had “zero trust” in Beijing.
“Both sides are unlikely to get what they want from the other side,” Nicholas Bequelin, a senior fellow at Yale’s Paul Tsai China Center, told AFP.

Beijing has said the meeting will “play an important role in building on the past and ushering in the future.”
“China and Europe are partners, not rivals, and their common interests far outweigh their differences,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said this week.
Von der Leyen and Michel’s schedule in the Chinese capital on Thursday will be tight.
The EU chiefs’ meeting with Xi will be followed by a working lunch.
They will then hold talks with Premier Li Qiang before attending an official dinner and a news conference in the evening.
The Europeans have said they will urge Beijing to use its ties with Moscow to push it to end its war against Ukraine.
While China has stopped short of providing military aid to Moscow, it has deepened economic ties as Western powers seek to isolate Russia.
War in the Middle East and tensions over self-ruled Taiwan will also feature prominently in the talks, the bloc has said.

US military grounds Osprey fleet following a deadly crash off the coast of Japan

US military grounds Osprey fleet following a deadly crash off the coast of Japan
Updated 07 December 2023

US military grounds Osprey fleet following a deadly crash off the coast of Japan

US military grounds Osprey fleet following a deadly crash off the coast of Japan
  • Crash raised new questions about the safety of the Osprey, which has been involved in multiple fatal accidents

WASHINGTON: The military announced late Wednesday it was grounding all of its Osprey V-22 helicopters, one week after eight Air Force Special Operations Command service members died in a crash off the coast of Japan.
The Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps took the extraordinary step of grounding hundreds of aircraft after a preliminary investigation of last week’s crash indicated that a materiel failure — that something went wrong with the aircraft — and not a mistake by the crew led to the deaths.
The crash raised new questions about the safety of the Osprey, which has been involved in multiple fatal accidents over its relatively short time in service. Japan grounded its fleet of 14 Ospreys after the crash.
Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, head of Air Force Special Operations Command, directed the standdown “to mitigate risk while the investigation continues,” the command said in a statement. “Preliminary investigation information indicates a potential materiel failure caused the mishap, but the underlying cause of the failure is unknown at this time.”
In a separate notice, Naval Air Systems Command said it was grounding all Ospreys. The command is responsible for the Marine Corps and Navy variants of the aircraft.
The Air Force said it was unknown how long the aircraft would be grounded. It said the standdown was expected to remain in place until the investigation determined the cause of the Japan crash and made recommendations to allow the fleet to return to operations.
The US-made Osprey is a hybrid aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but can rotate its propellers forward and cruise much faster, like an airplane, during flight.
Its unique design has been a factor in multiple incidents. While the investigation into last week’s crash has only just begun, it renewed attention on the aircraft’s safety record, particularly on a mechanical problem with the clutch that has troubled the program for more than a decade. There also have been questions as to whether all parts of the Osprey have been manufactured according to safety specifications.
In August, the Marines found that a fatal 2022 Osprey crash was caused by a clutch failure, but the root cause was still unknown. In its report on the crash, the Marines forewarned that future incidents “are impossible to prevent” without improvements to flight control system software, drivetrain component material strength, and robust inspection requirements.”
Air Force Special Operations Command has 51 Ospreys, the US Marine Corps flies as many as 400 and US Navy operates 27.
The Osprey is still a relatively young aircraft in the military’s fleet — the first Ospreys only became operational in 2007 after decades of testing. But more than 50 troops have died either flight testing the Osprey or conducting training flights in the aircraft, including 20 deaths in four crashes over the past 20 months.
An Osprey accident in August in Australia killed three Marines. That accident also is still under investigation.


Three killed in Las Vegas university shooting

Three killed in Las Vegas university shooting
Updated 07 December 2023

Three killed in Las Vegas university shooting

Three killed in Las Vegas university shooting

LAS VEGAS: Three people were killed and another critically injured in a shooting at a Las Vegas university on Wednesday, police said, with the suspect also dead.
The incident at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, a short distance from the gambling hub’s tourist-packed Las Vegas Strip, was the latest in the United States, where gun violence is a part of the fabric of daily life.
“According to our investigators at the scene, we have three deceased victims and one additional victim in critical condition at a local hospital,” the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department wrote on social media.
“The suspect in this #ActiveShooter incident is also deceased.”
Police said they had responded to calls around midday (2000 GMT) and indicated that officers had engaged a suspect on the campus, where gunshots rang out in at least two locations.
Television footage showed police military-style vehicles moving near containment lines, as well as dozens of young people being escorted through them.
One woman told local broadcaster KVVU that she had heard a series of loud noises and fled into a building on the campus, from which she was later evacuated by police.
“I was just having breakfast and then I heard three, like, loud booms,” she told the station.
“Then two more, and then police showed up there and ran inside... but then after two minutes boom, boom, boom, more shots. So I ran into a basement, and then we were in the basement for 20 minutes.”
Three hours after the shooting erupted, the university continued to urge people to shelter in place, saying that police were working to clear each building in turn and that the investigation remained ongoing.
“Law enforcement will potentially be coming to your door, follow directions and exit calmly with your hands plainly seen,” the university said.
Brett Forrest, a reporter from local outlet KSNV, told CNN he had been on the campus for an assignment and was continuing to shelter in place with dozens of students and faculty as they awaited the all-clear from police.
“We are told that they’re coming building by building, slowly letting out each building making sure no additional victims or anyone else inside, so they might take a while,” he said.
Universities in the area were shuttered for the rest of the day and flights into the nearby international airport were halted, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Las Vegas is a gambling and entertainment hub that attracts millions of visitors every year, many of whom come to see large, high-profile events.
Last month, the city played host to its inaugural Formula One Grand Prix, and in February it will be the scene of the Super Bowl, the showcase final of the professional American football season.
The city was also the scene of one of America’s deadliest-ever mass shootings, when a gunman opened fire on a crowded music festival in 2017, killing 60 people.
Mass shootings are alarmingly common in the United States, a country where there are more guns than people and where attempts to clamp down on their spread are always met with stiff resistance.
The country has recorded over 600 mass shootings this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nongovernmental organization that defines a mass shooting as four or more people wounded or killed.
The Washington Post, which keeps its own tally of mass shootings, said that as of Monday, there had been 38 such incidents in which at least four people had been killed.
Efforts to tighten gun controls have for years run up against opposition from Republicans, staunch defenders of what they interpret as an unfettered constitutional right to weaponry.
The political paralysis endures despite widespread outrage over recurrent shootings.