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Settlement Is Reached Over Stuck Ship That Blocked Suez Canal in Egypt


CAIRO — The owner and insurers of the enormous container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for six days in March and disrupted global shipping have reached a settlement with the Egyptian authorities, one of the insurers said on Wednesday.

The insurer’s statement did not specify the amount, but said that once the settlement was formalized, the ship — after nearly three months of haggling, finger-pointing and court hearings — would finally complete its journey through the canal.

“Following extensive discussions with the Suez Canal Authority’s negotiating committee over the past few weeks, an agreement in principle between the parties has been reached,” said a statement from the insurer UK P&I Club. “Together with the owner and the ship’s other insurers we are now working with the S.C.A. to finalize a signed settlement agreement as soon as possible.”

A spokesman for the UK Club said it would not be releasing further details. The Suez Canal Authority had not commented on the deal by Wednesday afternoon.

Since the ship was freed in a huge salvage effort in March, about six days after running aground across the Suez, the canal authority had been locked in an often acrimonious standoff with the ship’s owner and operators over what the authority said it was owed for the incident.

The authority had sought up to $1 billion in compensation, a figure that included the cost of tugboats, dredgers and crews hired to salvage the ship as well as the loss of revenue while the canal was blocked. During the delay, some ships U-turned and headed around the tip of Africa rather than wait for Suez traffic to resume, depriving the canal of their fees.

Under the standard terms that shipping companies are required to accept before traversing the Suez Canal, ships are liable for all costs or losses they cause in the canal. Still, the authority never provided a detailed breakdown of how it had arrived at such a large amount.

The sum does not cover the disruption to worldwide shipping, including delayed cargo and costs to other shipping lines, which experts have said could ultimately soar into the hundreds of millions.

Physically, at least, the Ever Given was long ago declared fit to move on. But until compensation is paid, the canal authority Rabie has said, the ship and its crew will remain impounded in the Great Bitter Lake, a natural body of water that connects the section of the canal where the ship was stuck to the next segment.

An Egyptian court had ordered the ship held until the financial claims were settled, a move that drew protests from the Ever Given’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha.

For more than three months, they faced off in an Egyptian commercial court and in the local press. The Egyptians insisted that the captain — who, under Suez Canal Authority rules, bore ultimate responsibility for commanding the ship despite the presence of Suez pilots who directed steering and speed — was to blame.

Whatever the Ever Given’s objections, the canal, which has a reputation for demanding large liability sums from shipowners, had a strong hand in the negotiations. The canal remains the shortest way to move cargo from Asia to Europe and beyond. As for the ship, it was far too valuable to abandon.

The months of negotiations left the ship’s crew of 25 Indian seafarers stuck in the middle, unable to leave the Ever Given until the bargaining ends, but for a few cases in which the Egyptian authorities granted crew members’ requests to leave after their contracts ended or for family reasons.

After other maritime accidents, crew members have found themselves stranded on impounded vessels for months or even years. In some cases, they have been arrested as the local authorities seek someone to blame for an oil spill or messy accident.

In this case, however, the crew appears to have been spared.

“A foreign seafarer is a very easy target,” said Stephen Cotton, the general secretary of the International Transport Workers’ Federation, which represents the crew.

In an interview after the ship was impounded, Abdulgani Serang, the general secretary of the National Union of Seafarers of India, described the crew, members of which he had spoken to briefly, as tense and feeling the pressure of the investigation.

“Quite justifiably,” he said, “they are stressed.”

Nada Rashwan contributed reporting.



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U.S. to Allow Some Asylum Seekers Rejected Under Trump to Reopen Cases


WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is broadening the pool of migrants who will be allowed to enter the United States to make asylum claims, in the latest effort to chip away at the restrictive immigration policies put in place under President Donald J. Trump.

The Department of Homeland Security said on Tuesday that on Wednesday it would start considering migrants whose cases were terminated under a Trump-era program that gave border officials the authority to send asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait for their cases to make it through the clogged American immigration system. The change could affect tens of thousands of people.

President Biden had already ended the program, known officially as the Migrant Protection Protocols. His administration this month started bringing in migrants enrolled in the program who had pending asylum cases.

In a statement, the department said the latest move was “part of our continued effort to restore safe, orderly and humane processing at the southwest border.”

While many immigration and human rights advocates welcomed the development, it will do little to alleviate the pressure on the Biden administration to stop turning away hundreds of thousands of other migrants, many of whom are also seeking asylum, who have been banned from entering the United States because of a public health rule put in place during the coronavirus pandemic.

Democrats and human rights advocates have long assailed the Trump program, which began in 2019 as an effort to discourage immigrants from trying to cross the southwestern border, despite having a legal right to apply for asylum in the United States. Many of the asylum seekers enrolled in the program had their cases closed because they could not appear at their court hearings in the United States while they faced perilous situations in Mexico.

“By keeping migrants in dangerous conditions in Mexico, the Trump administration ensured many people would not be able to appear at their hearings and their claims would be rejected,” Representatives Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Nanette Barragán of California, both Democrats, said in a joint statement on Tuesday. Mr. Thompson is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Ms. Barragán is the chairwoman of the subcommittee on border security. “Allowing these people to be eligible for processing is the right thing to do.”

Representative Michael Guest, Republican of Mississippi and a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the decision was made in haste and without transparency.

“The department’s seemingly impulsive announcement lacked explanation, justification or any other indicia that the decision had been made only after the careful deliberations and consultations that are both appropriate and lawfully required,” Mr. Guest wrote in a letter to Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary.

The development could affect more than 34,000 migrants seeking asylum in the United States, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which collects immigration data.

Judy Rabinovitz, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the process would not be quick. Applicants would need to register, and someone would have to tell them what they needed to submit to reopen their cases. And there is no guarantee that an immigration judge would grant a motion to reopen, she said, let alone grant asylum.

In another significant break from the Trump administration, the Justice Department last week reversed a Trump-era immigration ruling that had made it all but impossible for people to seek asylum in the United States over credible fears of domestic abuse or gang violence. The decision could affect hundreds of thousands of Central Americans fleeing gang extortion and recruitment and women fleeing domestic abuse who arrived in the United States since 2013.



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Cuba reports a high success rate for its homegrown Abdala vaccine.


Cuba began its Covid-19 mass vaccination campaign more than a month ago with homegrown, unproven vaccines, wagering that they would prove effective enough to blunt the rapid spread of the coronavirus on the cash-strapped Caribbean island.

The gamble appears to be paying off.

The Cuban health authorities said on Monday that their country’s three-shot Abdala vaccine had proved about 92 percent effective against the coronavirus in late-stage clinical trials.

Throughout the pandemic, Cuba has declined to import foreign vaccines while striving to develop its own, the smallest country in the world to do so.

The announcement places Abdala among the most effective Covid vaccines in the world, according to data from clinical trials, on a par with Pfizer-BioNTech’s 95 percent rate, Moderna’s 94.1 percent, and Russia’s Sputnik V at 91.6 percent.

On Saturday, Cuba’s state-run biotech corporation, BioCubaFarma, said that another of its vaccines, Sovereign 2, had 62 percent efficacy after two of its three required doses. Results for the full three doses are expected in the next few weeks.

The vaccine news was seen as a rare cause for celebration on an island that has been hammered both by the pandemic, which has devastated its tourism industry, and by Trump-era economic sanctions that have not been eased by the Biden administration.

Cuba is currently experiencing its worst coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic. It reported 1,561 new cases on Monday, a record.

In May the health authorities began a mass vaccination campaign in Havana before the completion of Phase 3 trials, which assess a vaccine’s effectiveness and safety. The emergency step was intended to help combat the Beta variant, first detected in South Africa, which was spreading rapidly in the Cuban capital. Close to one million Cubans — about 9 percent of the national population — have now received all three doses of either Abdala or Sovereign 2, according to official figures. Officials say they are seeing a slowing of the virus’s spread in Havana, where vaccinations have been concentrated so far.

Countries including Mexico, Argentina, Vietnam and Iran have expressed interest in Cuba’s coronavirus vaccines. The high announced rate of efficacy could reinforce hopes that biotechnology exports will help lift Cuba from the depths of its economic crisis.



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