PORTOROZ, Slovenia: The world’s whaling watchdog moved on Thursday (Oct 27) to curtail Japan’s annual whale hunt, conducted under scientific licence but blasted by critics as a commercial meat haul.
A resolution on “improving” the review of deadly research programmes, which Japan alone conducts, split the 70-year-old International Whaling Commission (IWC) into familiar camps – pro- and anti-whaling.
Just two days earlier, the pro camp defeated a bid to create a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic, which had required 75 per cent of IWC member votes.
Thursday’s resolution, however, needed a simple majority to pass. It garnered 34 “yes” votes to 17 cast by the camp that includes Japan and commercial whalers Norway and Iceland.
Championed by Australia and New Zealand, it will lead to the creation of a permanent “working group” to assist the IWC and its expert scientific committee to assess whaling programmes conducted in the name of science.
The outcome was hailed by conservation groups which accuse Japan of abusing an exemption for research hunts under a 30-year-old moratorium, which also allows controlled aboriginal subsistence whaling.
“Today’s vote shrinks the … loophole that Japan has exploited ever since the global moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect,” said Kitty Block of the Humane Society International.
“In defiance of the ban, Japan has issued itself a license to kill more than 15,000 whales under the guise of science” since 1986.
Resolutions are not legally binding on members of the commission, which has no policing function and cannot impose penalties.
“We will abide by the convention itself,” Japan’s commissioner to the IWC, Joji Morishita told AFP after the vote, referring to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the IWC’s founding document.
Japan’s whaling is a deeply divisive and recurring quarrel at the IWC’s biennial meetings.
Under the scientific exception, national governments determine their own catch limits and issue whaling permits.
In 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that permits issued by Japan were “not for purposes of scientific research” and instructed the country to halt its JARPA II programme.
Japan cancelled its 2014-15 hunt, only to resume it the following year under a new programme called NEWREP-A (New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean).
It killed 333 minke whales in the Southern Ocean that year – many of them pregnant, according to observers.
The Southern Ocean hosts one of two whale sanctuaries in the world.
The meat from Japan’s hunts ends up on supermarket shelves and in restaurants, in line with an IWC stipulation that whales taken for research must be eaten.
Morishita defended Japan’s whaling, insisting it was to gather science data, and did not violate the ICJ judgment.
In its ruling, “it is clear that the ICJ assumes there can be future research activities,” the commissioner told fellow delegates.
“The ICJ also said … that the use of lethal sampling per se is not unreasonable in relation to the research objectives.”
But his New Zealand counterpart, Amy Laurenson, insisted that NEWREP-A was clearly “not in fact for purposes of scientific research. “Japan has still not justified the use of lethal sampling,” she said.
Under the new resolution, a working group will be appointed to consider the reports of the IWC’s scientific committee on all new, ongoing and completed scientific whaling programmes.
It will report to the commission, which will express itself on the validity of every programme.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare welcomed the move as a further obstacle to Japan “unilaterally” issuing its own permits.
“We all know that scientific whaling is sham science, and simply commercial whaling by another name,” said the organisation’s Matt Collis.
IWC members put their differences aside just long enough on Thursday to pass a separate resolution on trying to save the critically endangered vaquita – a small porpoise sometimes called Mexico’s “panda of the sea”.
There are fewer than 60 known individuals left in the Gulf of California, the vaquita’s only home.
They perish in illegal nets used to catch totoaba, large fish whose swim bladders are believed in China to hold medicinal powers.
The vaquita decision urges IWC members to provide financial and technical assistance for Mexico to police a permanent gillnet ban, compensate affected fishers, and replace outdated fishing gear with safe alternatives.
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SINGAPORE: A 29-year-old Singaporean man was sentenced to three months’ jail on Thursday (Oct 26) for illegally importing three Red-whiskered Bulbul birds. Muhammad Farhan Abdullah also was also given three months’ jail for subjecting them to unnecessary suffering or pain.
Both sentences will run concurrently.
The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) alerted the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to the case in June, after is officers discovered three live birds in the man’s car at the Woodlands Checkpoint.
(Left) Box with a bird hidden beneath the carpet of the front passenger seat, (Right) Two more boxes with birds hidden under rear passenger seats. (Photos: ICA)
In a joint media release on Thursday, AVA and ICA said the birds were found hidden inside three small boxes beneath the carpet of the front passenger seat, as well as under the rear passenger seats of the Singapore-registered car.
All three boxes were found with birds hidden inside. (Photo: ICA)
Following investigations, AVA confirmed the Red-whiskered Bulbul birds were imported without an AVA permit. The birds were also tested and found to be free from avian influenza, and have been successfully rehomed at Jurong Bird Park, added AVA.
“Animals that are smuggled into Singapore are of unknown health status and may introduce exotic diseases, into the country,” said AVA. Offenders who import any animals or live birds without an AVA permit are liable to the maximum penalty of S$10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to a year.
PHNOM PENH: On any typical night around the heaving bars full of tourists and female workers, street pickers lurk in the shadows.
They are children, their parents and the elderly. They are grimy, hungry and desperate.
Phon Sophana is one of them. He and his family, including his wife and two young children, live on the street, foraging a living by searching through discarded waste for items of value, normally plastic bottles and cans.
They work through the night, mostly in the darkness, but all around the clock if they have the stamina.
“There are a lot of competitors,” the 31-year-old said. “If I can go early enough, it would be lucky. If the others go before me, they would collect everything first.
“Life is tough here.”
Sophana works through the night sorting through garbage in one of Phnom Penh’s busiest bar districts.
The rewards are meagre. Twenty kilogrammes of collected plastic bottles earn Sophana about US$1.50; cans are more valuable, but each day his family can only expect to earn about US$2.50, he said.
His youngest boy is just a toddler, naked and crying alongside his sleeping mother on the footpath. His elder son, six, is already scavenging on the streets – many street pickers in Cambodia are children.
But Sophana dreams that one day he will be able to send them to an orphanage to escape the cycle he has been trapped in since he himself was a child.
“If I want them just to be like me now, I would not be working so hard,” he said. “I am working hard every day just for them.
“But what to do? Now I don’t even have a house.”
Sophana feels the only secure future his children can have is at an orphanage.
Recycling as a source of income drives a whirring mini-economy on these streets, fuelled by the consumption of a growing city. The waste sector remains overwhelmingly informal, with Cambodia lacking a centralised recycling scheme that could help reduce urban garbage.
Much of the country’s waste is thrown into open tips or burned, and litter throughout city streets and canals is prevalent.
Within the gaps, however, grows enterprise. Hundreds of middlemen scrap collectors dot the corners around Phnom Penh, making profits from selling plastic, cardboard and metal to Vietnam and Thailand.
Kim Keam, 72, is one of the cogs in the wheel. The former real estate agent buys and sells from the street pickers, collecting larger amounts of waste to be on-traded to larger processors.
“They transport it to Vietnam, and I have no idea what will it be used for. I only know that I earn about 10,000 Riel (US$2.50) per day, which I use to pay my medical bills,” he said.
The sellers here are not just society’s poorest – an employee of the National Assembly arrives on his motorcycle with a garbage bag full of cardboard he collected at his work place that day. He is able to sell it for just less than one dollar, not an insignificant bounty in this country.
Aluminium cans can be sold to middlemen for about US$0.75 per kilogramme.
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Around Stung Meanchey, at the site of Phnom Penh’s notorious former dump, hundreds of families endure squalor to drive the business.
Their homes still bear the remnants of the old site, while evidence that the practice of scavenging remains ongoing is clear from the mountains of assorted plastic and layers of waste that create kaleidoscope paths of filth between houses.
But after the Stung Meanchey site was abandoned in 2009 for a different facility – Choeung Ek, which is about seven kilometres away – families who survive on picking need to wander further to meet their daily targets.
Children play among mountains of collected waste in Stung Meanchey.
“I go roaming everywhere around Phnom Penh,” said 37-year-old mother Sok Ran. “I wander without any specific direction until I get some good pickings. I start from 5am and at 5pm I come back home.”
Some people, including 27-year-old Than Kunthy, said they preferred the less structured nature of the work rather than employment in one of the country’s many garment workers, where monthly wages are less than US$150.
“To me, scavenging offers me a lot more freedom than garment factory work,” she said. “At the factory, if I want to have a day off, I needed to seek permission. Sometime, they allow it, sometime they don’t. It is really strict.”
While the picking business has become increasingly difficult since the re-location of the dump, many families chose not to move with it, buoyed by a squadron of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that now provide services, education and opportunities to the local community.
Many families have continued living in the community due to the number of NGO-provided services.
Sok Ran said she uses much of her income to pay for her children’s education, but it is a burden now lessened by NGOs who fund schools, drop-in centres, meals and medical care.
“I am uneducated, so I don’t want my kids to be like me,” she said.
Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF) is one of many organisations working to support families in the region by encouraging learning and discouraging methamphetamine use, which is on the rise in the community.
“It has grown exponentially over the last two years, driven ironically by the fact that the youth (who) use meth are making more money than those (who) didn’t because they are staying up and working for 12-15 hours straight,” said Scott Neeson, CCF’s founder.
Business is getting tougher for pickers, as processors get more selective.
“We aim to create a better, safer, healthier community – one which includes waste pickers, but not only waste pickers.
“Recycling and picking is a very hard way of life and Stung Meanchey is no paradise,” he added. “Life here has definitely improved in recent years. We are optimistic.”
Follow Jack Board on Twitter: @JackBoardCNA
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SINGAPORE: Manchester United greats Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville have teamed up with a Singaporean billionaire to open football-themed cafes and hotels in Asia, a spokesperson for the tycoon said Wednesday (Oct 26).
The two sportsmen and Peter Lim, owner of Spain’s Valencia football club and Singapore-based property developer Rowsley Ltd, are looking at opening the first Cafe Football outlet in Asia in 2017, the spokesperson said.
Neville told Bloomberg News the outlet will be in Singapore.
The Cafe Football outlet in Stratford, Manchester. (Photo: Twitter/Cafe Football UK)
“We’ve had fantastic reviews in Manchester, and we are looking for a UK, Europe and Asian expansion over the next 12 to 18 months to add multiple properties,” he said.
Neville told Singapore’s Straits Times that the trio would also look at expanding Hotel Football across Asia.
“We have an aggressive roll-out plan for Hotel Football, looking to over 5,000 new rooms over the next five to 10 years. We already have discussions in India, China, Thailand, and Malaysia, as well as other parts of the UK,” he said.
Rowsley announced in September that the company will open its third Cafe Football at the National Football Museum in Manchester later this year.
The first Cafe Football opened in London in 2013, followed by a second near Manchester United’s home ground Old Trafford in 2015.
Diners fill up the Cafe Football outlet in Stratford, Manchester. (Photo: Twitter/Cafe Football UK
In July, Neville and Giggs unveiled plans for a multimillion-pound development in Manchester city centre, including a 200-bed hotel, two skyscrapers and a synagogue.
Neville, a former England full-back, said the project would create 1,300 jobs and regenerate a historic part of the northwestern English city.
Welsh football legend Giggs recently left his assistant manager’s role at Manchester United following the arrival of former Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho.
JOHOR BARU: When Mr Soo Seng Yong visited his daughter at Hospital Sultanah Aminah (HSA) on Monday evening (Oct 24), he left feeling upbeat.
Mrs Choo Lin Fong, 36, was recovering well from a thyroid problem that had left her with breathing difficulties over the last 10 days. Little did Mr Soo know that on Tuesday, he would have the heartbreaking task of identifying his daughter’s lifeless body at the hospital mortuary.
People wait to be called to identify the bodies of their loved ones. (Photo: Amir Yusof)
Mrs Choo was among six patients who died in a fire which engulfed the Intensive Care Unit at HSA on Tuesday morning. The fire is believed to have started at a treatment room on the second floor of the hospital. Only one patient and three hospital staff in the ICU survived.
“When I last saw her, she was excited to be leaving the ICU the next day,” Mr Soo told Channel NewsAsia.
“She was going to another ward in a few hours. I still can’t believe she’s gone,” said the 66-year-old, who lives in Taman Nusa Indah, Johor Baru.
“Everything that has happened over the last few hours has been a blur. I can’t even remember who called to tell me the news.”
While he was at the mortuary waiting area, Mr Soo was given cash donations from various welfare groups. He thanked them and allowed pictures to be taken, but all he was thinking about was his daughter.
“I just want to take her home,” he said.
Families of those killed waited under a tented area beside the mortuary building while officials called them up one at a time to identify the bodies of their loved ones. When offered food and drink by government volunteers, many refused, including Mrs Choo’s aunt, who declined to be named.
The woman, who said she had taken care of Mrs Choo since she was three, was in tears. “Today it rains like it hasn’t for months. It rains like my tears,” she said.
Another person killed in the fire was Neeramala Devi Chandran, who was admitted on Monday night suffering from fits.
Ms Neeramala, an operator at a car parts company in Woodlands, had had a bout of fits at her home in Tampoi, Johor Baru, before she was taken to HSA.
Friends and relatives wait outside the mortuary to identify the bodies of their loved ones. (Photo: Amir Yusof)
Her cousin and colleague, Mahalechumy Ravi, left work early on Tuesday afternoon with eight of her other colleagues when they heard the news.
“I could not believe it when I heard she’s dead. I have been calling her phone, again and again. There’s no answer but I am not going to stop until I see her with my own eyes,” said Ms Mahalechumy, who also lives in Tampoi with Ms Neeramala.
As a police van drove up into the mortuary, she rushed to it, hoping that Ms Neeramala’s body was inside.
She said she regarded Ms Neeramala as her sister, and would accompany her body back to her hometown in Bahau, Negeri Sembilan.
“All I keep imagining now is her laughter. She was a very funny person, and this was the first time she suffered fits in her life. It’s fate,” said Ms Mahalechumy.
After post-mortem procedures, the HSA mortuary released the bodies of those killed to their families on Tuesday night.
Malaysia’s Women, Family and Community Development Ministry said that it would provide a free counselling service to the victims’ next-of-kin as well as other patients involved in the incident.
Its minister Rohani Abdul Karim told reporters that “so far, four counselling experts from the welfare department have been assigned to provide the service to the victims’ next-of-kin and the patients who survived”.
Speaking outside the hospital mortuary, she added that various government agencies, non-governmental organisations and companies had offered welfare assistance to the victims’ relatives and other affected patients.
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SINGAPORE: The region’s first large-scale offshore power grid system is being built on Semakau Landfill, consolidating power generated from multiple renewable energy sources – solar, wind and tidal – as well as diesel and power-to-gas technologies, to ensure that these energy sources work well together.
The deployment of the offshore system’s first hybrid microgrid was announced on Tuesday (Oct 25) by Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli at the Asia Clean Energy Summit held at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre.
The power grid system, which will have four hybrid microgrids occupying over 64,000 sq metres of land or about eight football fields, is being built by scientists from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
The offshore microgrid system will occupy over 64,000 sq metres of land or about eight soccer fields. (Photo: NTU)
Once all four microgrids are built by the end of 2017, they are expected to produce enough energy to power the equivalent of 250 four-room HDB flats for a year, NTU said. Fish hatcheries and nurseries at Semakau Landfill will be among the first to be powered.
Singapore is taking the lead in developing renewable energy solutions in Southeast Asia. “The deployment of this first hybrid microgrid is a big leap towards low-carbon electricity production for the nation and the region,” said NTU Chief of Staff and Vice-President (Research) Prof Lam Khin.
Such a hybrid microgrid system could be used to provide electricity on islands, remote villages, or in emergency situations, said NTU.
The hybrid microgrids at Semakau Landfill will be implemented in two phases.
The first phase, which has been completed, involved installing a microgrid facility with over 3,000 metre square of photovoltaic (PV) panels as well as a large-scale energy storage system.
Work to build the other three microgrids will start at the end of this year.
SINGAPORE: It all started when 26 year-old Anna was planning to travel the US in August.
“I knew I needed ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) to enter the US, so I just Googled ‘ESTA Singapore’ and clicked on the first link that Google delivered,” she recounted.
While Anna, who declined to reveal her full name, was initially surprised that the site quoted her an “absurdly expensive” charge of US$83 (S$115) for processing her application, she did not think much about it, citing the site’s official look and the fact that it was the top link on her online search.
“It was only after my friend and I discussed it that we realised the website was not the official website,” she said. “By that time, my credit card had already been charged.”
Spot the difference: A third-party website offering ESTA application services (top) and the official CBP website (bottom).
The site she used charges a US$69 processing fee on top of the US$14 charge levied by the US government for applying for an ESTA. On the website, applicants are required to fill in personal information like their passport details, personal income, as well as credit card details – the same information they would need to fill in if they had applied online through the official website.
Singaporeans do not require a visa to travel to the US, but under the US government’s Visa Waiver Programme, they must obtain authorisation through the ESTA before initiating travel.
Applications are done through the US Customs and Border Protection website for a fee of US$14.
“The ESTA site is easy for travellers to navigate on their own and responses are often available within hours,” said US Embassy Singapore spokesperson Camille Dawson. “Third party sites do not increase the chance of ESTA approval or a more timely result.”
“The public is encouraged to file their applications through the CBP.gov site and avoid the excessive fees charged by .com sites.”
But these sites are prevalent: A check on Google by Channel NewsAsia found more than five such third-party sites. These sites appeared prominently on the first page of search results, and depending on the keywords used, can appear above the official ESTA application website.
Searching for ‘ESTA Singapore’ on Google delivers a third-party site as the top hit, followed by the official CBP website.
Travellers to Canada have not been spared either.
While Singaporeans travelling to Canada also do not need a visa, those flying or transiting through the country will require a similar authorisation from early next month. Applying for an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA) on the official Government of Canada website will cost C$7 (S$7.30). While this requirement came into effect in March, the Canadian government granted a leniency period for travellers to ensure they were not caught unawares. This leniency period will end in November.
But even though the leniency period has not yet ended, similar third-party sites have already surfaced: one website found by Channel NewsAsia charges US$45 for its application service, including the C$7 cost charged by the Canadian government.
Close to 500 people have reached out to the Canadian government about these websites, according to a spokesperson from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). “Some of them had used these sites and ended up paying unnecessary fees and/or never got an eTA in the end, while others were close to applying but realised when they saw the fees that it wasn’t the official site.”
“These sites are not operating on behalf of the Government of Canada, and we advise travellers to be cautious in all dealings with companies that claim to offer help in getting an eTA,” IRCC added.
One added danger: Sharing personal information with these third-party websites could leave travellers open to credit card fraud or identity theft. “Such sites will not be bothered with data protection and travellers’ information could be used for questionable purposes including fraudulent activities,” noted the Consumer Association of Singapore’s (CASE) Executive Director Seah Seng Choon.
But should a Singaporean traveller feel they have used these websites under the impression they were official, there are limited avenues within the country to seek redress.
For one, CASE said it would not be able to help as most of these sites are based overseas. “Such sites are out of our jurisdiction unless those countries in question have a Memorandum of Understanding with us,” said Mr Seah.
He explained that CASE can only assist in overseas disputes if a MoU was signed with the relevant consumer body in those countries, and advised those who have been duped to report such matters to the relevant embassies.
Travellers can also write in to the third-party websites to request for a refund.
“I emailed them and managed to get my money back quite easily, within a couple of days,” said Anna. She did, however, cancel her credit card as a precaution.
Both the US and Canadian governments are also taking steps to ensure unwary travellers do not fall into the trap.
The US Customs and Border Protection website carries a warning about these third-party sites. “CBP cannot refund the money you paid to a third-party website,” it said. “However, if you think you have been victimised, contact your bank or credit card company and request a refund of any amount over the US$14 required by the US government by disputing the add-on charges on your statement.”
The Canadian government has also taken a number of steps to combat these sites, said IRCC, adding that they are “very concerned” that travellers are getting caught unaware.
“We have posted information on our website and are using our social media channels to warn travellers about these unauthorised websites,” it said.
IRCC added that the eTA website data has also been revised so the description text in major search engine sites states that the IRCC site is the sole official website for travellers to apply for an eTA. “As well, we continue to share information with Google about these sites in an effort to prevent them from promoting their services.”