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Former Fiji leader Frank Bainimarama, suspended police chief avoid jail in corruption case

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Frank Bainimarama was given an absolute discharge in a packed Suva’s Magistrates Court on Thursday after last week being convicted of perverting the course of justice.

An absolute discharge is the lowest-level sentence that an offender can get. It means no conviction is registered against Bainimarama.

State broadcaster FBC reports, Magistrate Seini Puamau considered Bainimarama’s health.

The 69-year-old was sentenced alongside suspended police chief Sitiveni Qiliho, who was given a FJ$1500 fine without conviction as well.

The absolute discharge and a fine without conviction was given despite the prosecutors last week urging Magistrate Puamau to order immediate custodial sentences towards the high end of the tariff for both men – which would be no less than five years in jail for Bainimarama and 10 years for Qiliho.

Source : RNZ

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World

Three men rescued off island due to beach ‘HELP’ sign

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Three men were rescued by the US Coast Guard off an island in Micronesia after they sent out a plea for “HELP” using palm tree leaves.

They spelled out “HELP” with the leaves, which led to the rescue nine days after they left on a sailing trip.

They had been reported missing after failing to return from a journey to Pikelot Atoll – an uninhabited coral island about 415 miles (667km) from Guam.

It is the second time in four years people were rescued from the island.

The Coast Guard said in a statement that the three experienced mariners, all unnamed men in their 40s, had embarked on their sailing trip from Polowat Atoll – an island that is a part of the Federated States of Micronesia.

They departed on Easter Sunday for Pikelot Atoll, about 115 miles (185km) away, in a traditional 20-foot skiff with an outboard motor, the Coast Guard added.

After failing to return, a relative of the men alerted the Coast Guard’s Joint Rescue Sub-Center in Guam that her three uncles were missing, sparking a search and rescue mission.

First responders were initially searching an area that was more than 78,000 square nautical miles in poor weather conditions. But then they spotted the men from the air – thanks to the makeshift “HELP” sign.

“In a remarkable testament to their will to be found, the mariners spelled out ‘HELP’ on the beach using palm leaves, a crucial factor in their discovery,” said Lieutenant Chelsea Garcia, who led the search and rescue mission the day they were located.

“This act of ingenuity was pivotal in guiding rescue efforts directly to their location,” she said.

Coast Guard personnel then airdropped survival packages and a radio to the men while a US Coast Guard vessel made its way to the island.

The mariners later radioed back and said they were in good health and had access to food and water, the US Coast Guard said.

They also had recovered their skiff, which sustained damage that rendered it non-functional, and said they needed help getting back to Polowat.

After departing on their voyage on 31 March, the sailors were officially rescued off the island on 9 April.

The US Coast Guard said the rescue is an example of the strong coordination between the US and the Federal States of Micronesia, as well as US Navy personnel who are stationed in the area.

Micronesia, in the western Pacific, consists of some 600 tiny islands scattered over a vast ocean expanse.

“Every life saved, and every mariner returned home is a testament to the enduring partnership and mutual respect that characterizes our relationship,” said Lieutenant Commodore Christine Igisomar, who was also part of the search and rescue mission.

Though uninhabited, Pikelot Atoll is often temporarily visited by hunters and fishermen. It has also been the site of another rescue in recent years.

In 2020, three Micronesian mariners were saved – by the Australian Defence Force – after spelling out “SOS” on the beach.

Source: BBC and RNZ

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World

OJ Simpson, NFL star acquitted in ‘trial of the century’, dies aged 76

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OJ Simpson, the former American footballer who was controversially cleared of double murder, has died aged 76.

Orenthal James Simpson rose to fame as a college footballer before playing in the NFL.

In 1995, he was acquitted of the murder of his former wife Nicole Brown and a friend in a trial that gripped America.

In 2008, he was sentenced to 33 years’ imprisonment on charges of armed robbery. He was released in 2017.

Simpson died of cancer on Wednesday “surrounded by his children and grandchildren”, a family statement read.

In 1994, Simpson was arrested as a suspect in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ron Goldman.

The pair were found stabbed to death outside Brown’s home in Los Angeles, and Simpson was an immediate person of interest in the case.

On the day he was due to turn himself in, Simpson fled in his white Ford Bronco with a former teammate, and led the police on a slow-speed chase through the Los Angeles area.

That chase engrossed audiences in both the United States and abroad as it was broadcast live on “rolling” 24-hour news channels that were still in their relative infancy.

In the ensuing court case, dubbed the “trial of the century” by US media, prosecutors argued Simpson had killed Brown in a jealous fury. Evidence included blood, hair and fibre tests linking Simpson to the murders.

The defence argued Simpson was framed by police who were motivated by racism.

In one of the trial’s most memorable moments, prosecutors asked Simpson to wear a pair of blood-stained gloves allegedly found at the scene of the murder, but Simpson struggled to put them on. It led to one of Simpson’s lawyers, Johnnie Cochrane, telling the jury in his closing arguments: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

The jury ultimately sided with Simpson, who declared he was “absolutely 100 percent not guilty”. The acquittal proved hugely controversial.

The families of Smith and Goldman did not give up – they pursued a civil case against Simpson in 1997 where a jury found Simpson liable for the two deaths. He was ordered to pay US$33.5m (NZ$57m) in damages to their families.

In 2006, Simpson sold a book manuscript, titled “If I Did It”, and a prospective TV interview, giving a “hypothetical” account of the murders he had always strenuously denied.

Public objections ended both projects, but Goldman’s family secured the book rights, added material imputing guilt to Simpson and had it published.

Simpson’s final disgrace came in 2008, when he was convicted of armed robbery for breaking into a Las Vegas hotel room with four accomplices, holding two sports memorabilia dealers at gunpoint and stealing items related to his NFL career.

He was sentenced to 33 years in jail, but was granted parole after serving the minimum of nine years.

Before his legal problems, Simpson was well-liked, known as an athlete, actor and the face of several major companies.

He was a college football star at University of Southern California before signing with the Buffalo Bills in 1969, where he played until 1977.

He became one of the greatest ball carriers in NFL history. In 1973, he was the first NFL player to “rush” – running to advance the ball for his team – more than 2000 yards in a season.

He retired in 1979 to concentrate on a career in film and television. His credits include roles in the Towering Inferno, Capricorn One and the Naked Gun series.

Initial public reaction to his death ranged from muted to hostile.

In a statement, the Pro Football Hall of Fame outlined Simpson’s achievements as an NFL player, and said records of those contributions would be preserved in its archive.

Fred Goldman, Ronald’s father, described Simpson’s death as “no great loss”.

“The only thing I have to say is it’s just further reminder of Ron being gone all these years,” he told the NBC News network. “It’s no great loss to the world. It’s a further reminder of Ron’s being gone.”

Source: BBC and RNZ

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Baltimore bridge collapses after being struck by ship, six presumed dead

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Six construction workers missing after the Baltimore Bridge collapse are now presumed dead and rescue efforts have been suspended, police say.

It comes after a massive cargo ship smashed into the bridge while sailing out of Baltimore early on Tuesday, sending cars and people into the river below and closing one of the busiest ports on the US Eastern Seaboard.

Rescuers pulled out two survivors, one of whom was hospitalised, and searched for more in the Patapsco River after huge metal spans of the 1.6-mile (2.57 km) Francis Scott Key Bridge crumpled into the icy water around 1.30 am (local time).

Search and rescue will give way to a recovery effort, with divers that will resume in the morning.

The ship reported a power issue before impact, which enabled officials to stop traffic on the bridge before the collapse.

“By being able to stop cars from coming over the bridge, these people are heroes. They saved lives last night,” Maryland Governor Wes Moore said at a briefing. The bridge was up to code and there were no known structural issues, Moore said.

There was no evidence of foul play, officials said.

Work crews had been repairing potholes on the bridge at the time of the collapse and sonar detected vehicles under the water, which was about 50 feet deep at that point, said Paul Wiedefeld, Maryland Secretary of Transportation.

Eight people were on the bridge at the time and six remained unaccounted for, the state’s transportation secretary said hours after the collision, which closed one of the busiest ports in the United States.

The 948-foot (288.95m) vessel, as long as three football fields placed end to end, had experienced a momentary loss of propulsion and dropped anchors as part of emergency procedures before impact, its management company, Synergy Marine Pte Ltd reported, according to the Singapore Port Authority.

The 3km long Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland has collapsed into the water after a cargo ship collided with it.The Key Bridge crumples after being struck by a ship, which is visible in the left of the frame. Photo: Screenshot / StreamTime Live
The Dali, owned by Grace Ocean Pte Ltd, collided with one of the pillars of the bridge, according to manager Synergy. All 22 crew members aboard the Singapore-flagged vessel were accounted for, it said.

Ship traffic was suspended at the Port of Baltimore until further notice. It is the busiest US port for car shipments, handling more than 750,000 vehicles in 2022, according to port data.

The closure of one of the US East Coast’s major ports threatens to disrupt supplies of goods from cars, to coal and other commodities like sugar. It could create bottlenecks and increase delays and costs on the Eastern seaboard, experts say. The port handles the most car imports and is among the largest for coal exports.

President Joe Biden said the US Coast Guard responded quickly to the mayday call and commended the fast action of Maryland transportation officials who shut the bridge before it was struck and “undoubtedly saved lives.”

He promised to visit Baltimore, 40 miles (64 km) away, as soon as possible and said he wanted the federal government to pay to rebuild the bridge, he said at the White House.

“I’m directing my team to move heaven and Earth to reopen the port and rebuild the bridge as soon as humanly possible,” Biden said. The bridge, named for the author of the Star-Spangled Banner, opened in 1977.

Map of Francis Scott Key bridge on the Patapsco River near Baltimore.Photo: Google Maps
The US Coast Guard reported the collapse at 1:27am and it deployed crews for an active search and rescue mission after the Singapore-flagged container ship forced the trellis-like bridge up into a mangled mass of metal.

Jayme Krause, 32, was working a night shift on shore when the cart of packages in front of her shook violently at around 2 a.m. in what sounded like an intense thunderstorm.

A coworker at an Amazon logistics facility told her the bridge had collapsed and she ran out to look.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – MARCH 26: In an aerial view, cargo ship Dali is seen after running into and collapsing the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. Rescuers are searching for at least seven people, authorities say, while two others have been pulled from the Patapsco River. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP (Photo by TASOS KATOPODIS / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP)The cargo ship Dali after running into and collapsing the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Photo: Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images via AFP
“I went over there, and sure as anything, it was gone, the whole bridge was just like, there was nothing there,” she told Reuters. “It was a shocking sight to see.”

She did not see anyone in the water, nor hear any cries for help from where she stood at the bay.

The Francis Scott Key bridge was the main thoroughfare for drivers between New York and Washington who sought to avoid downtown Baltimore. It was one of three ways to cross the Baltimore Harbour, with a traffic volume of 31,000 cars per day or 11.3 million vehicles a year.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott described a scene of twisted metal shooting into the sky. “It was something out of an action movie. It was something you never thought you’d see,” he said.

A live video posted on YouTube showed the ship ploughing into the bridge in darkness. The headlights of vehicles could be seen on the bridge as it crashed into the water and the ship caught fire.

The same ship was involved in an accident in the port of Antwerp, Belgium, in 2016, when it hit a quay as it tried to exit the North Sea container terminal.

A later inspection in June 2023 carried out in San Antonio in Chile found the vessel had “propulsion and auxiliary machinery” deficiencies, according to data on the public Equasis website, which provides information on ships.

Rare event
Tuesday’s disaster may be the worst US bridge collapse since 2007 when the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed into the Mississippi River, killing 13 people.

The National Transportation Safety Board was sending a team to investigate.

Moore, the governor, declared a state of emergency to quickly deploy federal resources to deal with the emergency. The FBI in Baltimore said on X its personnel were on the scene.

The Dali was chartered by shipping company Maersk at the time of the incident, the Danish company said in a statement.

“We are horrified by what has happened in Baltimore, and our thoughts are with all of those affected,” Maersk said.

Baltimore port’s private and public terminals handled 847,158 autos and light trucks in 2023, the most of any US port. The port also handles farm and construction machinery, sugar, gypsum and coal, according to a Maryland government website.

The steel frame of the Francis Scott Key Bridge sits on top of the container ship Dali after the bridge collapsed in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 26, 2024. The bridge collapsed early March 26 after being struck by the Singapore-flagged Dali, sending multiple vehicles and people plunging into the frigid harbor below. There was no immediate confirmation of the cause of the disaster, but Baltimore’s Police Commissioner Richard Worley said there was “no indication” of terrorism. (Photo by Mandel NGAN / AFP)The steel frame of the Francis Scott Key Bridge sits on top of the container ship Dali after the bridge collapsed in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: AFP / Mandel Ngan
The port handles imports and exports for major automakers including Nissan, Toyota, General Motors, Volvo, Jaguar Land Rover and the Volkswagen group – including luxury models for Audi, Lamborghini and Bentley.

General Motors and Ford Motor will reroute affected shipments, but the companies said the impact will be minimal.

More than 40 ships remained inside Baltimore port including small cargo ships, tug boats and pleasure craft, data from ship tracking and maritime analytics provider MarineTraffic showed. At least 30 other ships had signalled their destination was Baltimore, the data showed.

This story was originally published by Reuters.

VIA RNZ

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