Texas nightmare continues – National & International News – FRI 19Feb2021

Millions of Texans have been warned to boil tap water. Many stores are closed and those that are open have empty shelves.

Nightmare continues in Texas. NASA rover lands on Mars. Congress revives Xinjiang product ban. Mariners stranded 4 years just yards from shore.


Nightmare continues in Texas

Texas has warned 7 million people, a quarter of its population, to boil tap water before drinking it. Freezing temperatures have burst pipes and power failures have disrupted operations at water treatment plants.

Residents in many areas are also having a hard time finding food. Many major grocery stores and chains in the state remain closed. The ones that are still open have long lines and empty shelves.

The state has also had at least 300 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, including two fatalities so far. The number of fatalities is expected to rise. Most poisoning cases have to do with people who are still without power bringing outdoor equipment like grills indoors to generate heat. Other cases involve turning cars on with garage doors closed or running gas-powered generators indoors.


NASA’s Perseverance rover lands on Mars

Last week, China and the UAE successfully navigated their first probes into orbit of Mars last week. Today, NASA’s Perseverance rover has survived “seven minutes of terror” and touched down safely on the Martian surface. This is NASA’s fifth robotic probe to land on Mars.

Perseverance has landed in the Jezero crater, which scientists believe is a promising place to look for signs of past life. The probe will spend the next two years drilling samples into the surrounding area in search of ancient microbes.

Perseverance will prepare and seal test tubes with the most interesting samples. These will be left on the surface and NASA has devised a plan to retrieve the samples later in the decade.

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Congress revives Xinjiang product ban

The House reintroduced a bill first to ban imports from China’s Xinjiang region unless importers can prove that their products were not made with forced Uighur labor. The updated version would also allow the White House to sanction Chinese officials responsible for the abuses.

Several major US firms, including Coca-Cola, Nike and Apple, have been lobbying heavily against the legislation. Coca-Cola sources sugar from the region and claims to have third-party supervision that ensures there is no forced labor in its supply chain. However, the restrictions imposed by the Chinese government in Xinjiang make it unlikely any third party could credibly make such a determination.

Nike claims not to source “textiles” or “yarn” from Xinjiang. The omission of “cotton” from the list may be significant. China is the world’s largest supplier of cotton, and 80% of that cotton comes from Xinjiang. Recent reports reveal that 500,000 Uighurs are enslaved on cotton plantation in Xinjiang.

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Mariners stranded 4 years, just yards from shore

Off the coast of Umm Al Quwain in the United Arab Emirate is a 5,000-ton oil tanker grounded on the sand. On the tanker are five mariners who have sat a grim four-year vigil on the foundering ship, unable to set foot on shore just yards away. In 2017, the men, three engineers, a cook and a crewman, were hired by Alco Shipping, once one of the UAE’s largest shipping firms. Alco folded about a year later and stopped paying salaries.

Three of the men hail from India, one from Pakistan, and the chief engineer is Burmese. Collectively, they are owed $230,000. If they leave the ship, they forfeit any claim to the desperately needed wages. Even if they wished to abandon their claim, they lack the proper paperwork to go ashore. In the case of the Burmese engineer, his passport as expired and it is unclear how he would get another one.

Syed Waqar Hasan has taken over Alco after his brother Syed Ijaz Hasan, was jailed in 2017 for financial crimes. Hasan asserts that Alco is bankrupt and there is no money to pay the men. He claims to have a buyer for the ship who is willing to partially reimburse the men and pay for their repatriation. It’s unclear whether the 5 men would accept such an offer. In the meantime, they depend on charity for their food and water and worry about the increasingly difficult circumstances of their wives and children at home.

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