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Could tugboats have helped avert the bridge collapse tragedy in Baltimore?

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Could tugboats have helped avert the bridge collapse tragedy in Baltimore?

With the 95,000-ton cargo ship Dali powerless and hurtling helplessly toward the Francis Scott Key Bridge, the harbor pilot commanding the vessel had just minutes to make his last, desperate attempts to avoid disaster. He declared distress, dropped anchor and, notably, called for help from nearby tugboats.

Two 5,000-horsepower tugs, which only minutes earlier had helped guide the ship out of its berth at the Port of Baltimore and peeled off, quickly turned back and raced toward the Dali. But it was too late. The massive ship stacked with cargo slammed into the bridge in the predawn darkness Tuesday, toppling the span and killing six construction workers.

Whether those tugs could have averted the disaster with the Dali already out of control is debatable. But maritime experts interviewed by The Associated Press say they could have made a difference if the tugs had stuck by the ship longer, escorting it on its 18-minute trip through the port’s deep-water channel, in a position to see it drifting off course and potentially nudge or tow it back in line.

Such extended tugboat escorts aren’t required or even customary in Baltimore or at many other U.S. ports, mostly because of the costs they would add for shippers. But with the increasing size of cargo ships and the threat they pose to bridges and other critical infrastructure, some are questioning whether they should be.

“I’m a big fan of tug escorts,” said Joseph Ahlstrom, a member of the Board of Commissioners of Pilots of the State of New York, which regulates the state’s harbor pilots. “If applied early enough and effectively, yes, a tug escort could prevent a collision with the bridge or with another ship, or going aground.”

“Going to sea is danger,” added Ahlstrom, who also teaches at the State University of New York’s Maritime College. “But if you’re going to go to sea, if you’re going to put yourself at risk, do whatever it takes to minimize risk.”

 

FILE - This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the Francis Scott Key Bridge struck by the container ship Dali in Baltimore, Md., on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (Maxar Technologies via AP, File)

 

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FILE – This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the Francis Scott Key Bridge struck by the container ship Dali in Baltimore, Md., on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (Maxar Technologies via AP, File)

 

Maritime experts told the AP that the Baltimore disaster highlights how each individual port makes its own tugboat rules, resulting in a patchwork across the nation, and how competition among ports for business from cost-conscious shipping companies has trumped calls for extended tugboat escorts that can add tens of thousands of dollars to every transit.

Baltimore’s port, operated by the state of Maryland, ordinarily uses tugboats to help maneuver big ships out of their docks and doesn’t require extended tugboat escorts into the port’s channel and broader Chesapeake Bay unless ordered by local harbor pilots or the U.S. Coast Guard over safety concerns tied to weather, traffic, cargo or mechanical issues. Shippers can also request tugs.

In the case of the Dali, two state harbor pilots boarded the Singaporean-flagged ship to take over navigation through the port as the vessel set out on a trip to Sri Lanka. Two tugboats, the Eric McAllister and the Bridget McAllister, guided the massive vessel out of the tight spaces of the dock and then released when the ship was safely in the channel.

But within minutes, according to satellite data that tracks vessel traffic, the 984-foot (300-meter) Dali began to drift out of its lane and veered more sharply before slamming into one of the main pillars of the bridge, which is a critical conduit for Baltimore truckers and commuters.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, said a review of the ship’s voyage data recorder showed the pilot’s 1:26 a.m. call for help from nearby tugs came about four minutes before impact.

“One of the things that was hard for me to believe is that they didn’t require tugs on the vessel as it was traversing towards the bridge,” said David Heindel, president of the Seafarers International Union, which represents U.S. merchant mariners.

“Some ports require tugs, depending on the vessel, usually tankers. You see where tugs have to escort ships in and out of port, especially narrow ports,” Heindel said. “In the end, I think that that may be exactly what happens in the Port of Baltimore.”

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The Maryland Port Administration did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said the service doesn’t direct tug operations in the port and the Dali’s departure “is the typical outbound scenario for these types of cargo ships.”

The Dali is owned by Grace Ocean Private Ltd. and managed by the Singapore-based Synergy Marine Group. Synergy spokesman Darrell Wilson said the pilots guide the company’s ships in and out and that he didn’t know how tugs are coordinated.

The Eric McAllister and Bridget McAllister are muscular machines. Called tractor tugs, they don’t just nudge ships. The Eric McAllister, the bigger of the two, is 98 feet (30 meters) long and equipped with a thick steel cable and winch that, when attached to even a large cargo ship, can potentially pull it away from trouble.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FILE - In this photo provided by the Maryland National Guard, the cargo ship Dali is stuck under part of the structure of the Francis Scott Key Bridge after the ship hit the bridge, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Baltimore. (Maryland National Guard via AP, File)

 

FILE – In this photo provided by the Maryland National Guard, the cargo ship Dali is stuck under part of the structure of the Francis Scott Key Bridge after the ship hit the bridge, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Baltimore. (Maryland National Guard via AP, File)

 

The 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound spurred Congress and a few states to require tug escorts for oil tankers. But those limited requirements were aimed at protecting wildlife from spills, not safeguarding critical infrastructure such as bridges.

Jennifer Carpenter, president of the American Waterways Operators, a trade group that represents tugboat and barge companies, said that given the Dali tragedy, she expects regulators to look closely at whether more stringent tugboat escort requirements are needed.

But she said tugboats are just one part of a complex safety matrix that also includes concrete fenders for bridges and emergency response systems.

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The supply of tugboats is limited and using them more frequently entails risks, she said, primarily pollution and increased sea traffic.

“The last thing we want to do is have two tugs escorting every vessel,” Carpenter said. “That would have massive implications for the efficiency and safety of our waterways, which are already pretty crowded.”

Some ports have tried to boost vessel escort requirements. But they often face resistance from shippers, who are under pressure from customers to move goods as cheaply as possible.

In 2004, California’s Legislature passed a bill requiring tug escorts for chemical tanker ships in San Francisco Bay, but it was vetoed by then-Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger amid protests by the shipping industry over cost concerns.

“Tugs are a big upfront cost and a lot of companies don’t want to pay for that,” said Sal Mercogliano, who writes a widely followed shipping blog. “And if Baltimore starts mandating it, you’re going to see ships go to Norfolk, Philadelphia, New York — wherever is cheapest.”

McAllister Towing, which operates the tugboats that guided the Dali, can charge $15,000 or more for one or more of its ships to lead a large cargo vessel out of its berth, according to a recent rate sheet, with more charges for extended escorts.

That may be small change for a big shipping company but the costs can add up.

John Konrad, a licensed captain, said there’s an “unspoken tension” between shipping companies and pilots over how many tugboats should be used and how long they remain with a seagoing vessel.

“The pilots would like, in an ideal world, to have extra tugs with them all the time until the ship gets out to the ocean,” said Konrad, founder and CEO of gCaptain, a website for maritime professionals.

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“But the shipping companies don’t want to pay for those tugs,” he said. “So there’s always this push and pull.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FILE - In this image from video released by the National Transportation and Safety Board, the container ship Dali is stuck under part of the structure of the Francis Scott Key Bridge after the ship hit the bridge, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Baltimore. (NTSB via AP, File)

 

FILE – In this image from video released by the National Transportation and Safety Board, the container ship Dali is stuck under part of the structure of the Francis Scott Key Bridge after the ship hit the bridge, Tuesday, March 26, 2024, in Baltimore. (NTSB via AP, File)

 

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Associated Press reporter Josh Funk contributed.

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Contact AP’s global investigative team at [email protected] or https://www.ap.org/tips/

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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