- Created on 04 December 2013
Photo by Associated Press
An American man who is marking four years in prison in Cuba has written a letter to President Barack Obama asking the president to get personally involved in securing his release.
Alan Gross was arrested four years ago Tuesday while working covertly in the Communist-run country to set up Internet access for the island's small Jewish community, access that bypassed local restrictions. At the time, he was working as a subcontractor for the U.S. government's U.S. Agency for International Development, which works to promote democracy on the island.
Cuba considers USAID's programs illegal attempts by the U.S. to undermine its government, and Gross was ultimately tried and sentenced to 15 years in prison. His case has become a sticking point in improving ties between the two countries, which have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1961.
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- Created on 04 December 2013
AP Photo/DCN Diving
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- Entombed at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in an upended tugboat for three days, Harrison Odjegba Okene begged God for a miracle.
The Nigerian cook survived by breathing an ever-dwindling supply of oxygen in an air pocket. A video of Okene's rescue in May - HTTP://WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/WATCH?VARWGILMKCQE - that was posted on the Internet more than six months later has gone viral this week.
As the temperature dropped to freezing, Okene, dressed only in boxer shorts, recited the last psalm his wife had sent by text message, sometimes called the Prayer for Deliverance: "Oh God, by your name, save me. ... The Lord sustains my life."
To this day, Okene believes his rescue after 72 hours underwater at a depth of 30 meters (about 100 feet) is a sign of divine deliverance. The other 11 seaman aboard the Jascon 4 died.
Divers sent to the scene were looking only for bodies, according to Tony Walker, project manager for the Dutch company DCN Diving, who were called to the scene because they were working on a neighboring oil field 120 kilometers (75 miles) away.
The divers had already pulled up four bodies.
So when a hand appeared on the TV screen Walker was monitoring in the rescue boat, showing what the diver in the Jascon saw, everybody assumed it was another corpse.
"The diver acknowledged that he had seen the hand and then, when he went to grab the hand, the hand grabbed him!" Walker said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
"It was frightening for everybody," he said. "For the guy that was trapped because he didn't know what was happening. It was a shock for the diver while he was down there looking for bodies, and we (in the control room) shot back when the hand grabbed him on the screen."
On the video, there's an exclamation of fear and shock from Okene's rescuer, and then joy as the realization sets in. Okene recalls hearing: "There's a survivor! He's alive."
Walker said Okene couldn't have lasted much longer.
"He was incredibly lucky he was in an air pocket but he would have had a limited time (before) ... he wouldn't be able to breathe anymore."
The full video of the rescue captured by divers was released by DCN Diving after a request from The Associated Press. Initially, a shorter version of the rescue emerged on the Internet. The authenticity of the video was confirmed through conversations with DCN employees in the Netherlands. The video showing Okene was also consistent with additional photos of him on the rescue ship. The AP also contacted Okene on Tuesday who confirmed the events.
Okene's ordeal began around 4:30 a.m. on May 26. Always an early riser, he was in the toilet when the tug, one of three towing an oil tanker in Nigeria's oil-rich Delta waters, gave a sudden lurch and then keeled over.
"I was dazed and everywhere was dark as I was thrown from one end of the small cubicle to another," Okene said in an exclusive interview after his rescue with Nigeria's Nation newspaper.
He groped his way out of the toilet and tried to find a vent, propping doors open as he moved on. He discovered some tools and a life vest with two flashlights, which he stuffed into his shorts.
When he found a cabin of the sunken vessel that felt safe, he began the long wait, getting colder and colder as he played back a mental tape of his life - remembering his mother, friends, mostly the woman he'd married five years before with whom he hadn't yet fathered a child.
He worried about his colleagues - 10 Nigerians and the Ukrainian captain including four young cadets from Nigeria's Maritime Academy. They would have locked themselves into their cabins, standard procedure in an area stalked by pirates.
He got really worried when he heard the sound of fish, shark or barracudas he supposed, eating and fighting over something big.
As the waters rose, he made a rack on top of a platform and piled two mattresses on top.
According to his interview with the Nation: "I started calling on the name of God. ... I started reminiscing on the verses I read before I slept. I read the Bible from Psalm 54 to 92. My wife had sent me the verses to read that night when she called me before I went to bed."
He survived off just one bottle of Coke, all he had to sustain him during the trauma.
Okene really thought he was going to die, he told the Nation, when he heard the sound of a boat engine and anchor dropping, but failed to get the attention of rescuers. He figured, given the size of the boat, that it would take a miracle for a diver to locate him. So he waded across the cabin, stripped the wall down to its steel body, then knocked on it with a hammer.
But "I heard them moving away. They were far away from where I was."
By the time he was saved, relatives already had been told the sailors were dead.
Okene kept faith with the psalm he recited, that promises to "give thanks in your name, Lord," at a service at his Redeemed Christian Church of God.
He was rescued by a diver who first used hot water to warm him up, then attached him to an oxygen mask. Once free of the sunken boat, he was put into a decompression chamber and then safely returned to the surface.
- Created on 03 December 2013
Photo by Associated Press
Uruguay's president wants the world to lend him a hand in his quest to legalize weed.
In an interview with Brazilian daily A Folha de São Paulo published Sunday, José Mujica defended his push to legalize the limited government sale of marijuana, calling on foreign governments to support the project.
"We ask the world to help us create this experience," Mujica told A Folha de São Paulo during an interview at his farm outside Montevideo. "It will allow us to adopt a socio-political experiment to address the serious problem of drug trafficking... the effect of the drug traffic is worse than the drug."
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- Created on 03 December 2013
Chickens roost at a Chinese poultry farm in April this year.
Hong Kong (CNN) -- Hong Kong is on high alert after an Indonesian domestic helper contracted the city's first human case of H7N9 avian flu, the city's government says.
The 36-year-old maid is in hospital in a critical condition, Ko Wing-man, Hong Kong's secretary for food and health said in a statement.
The woman had recently traveled to Shenzhen, the mainland Chinese city nearest to Hong Kong, where she bought, slaughtered and ate a chicken, Ko added. Her close contacts have also been isolated in hospital.
Ko said that Hong Kong had raised its level of preparedness for an influenza pandemic to "serious."
Human infections from the H7N9 strain of bird flu first emerged in Shanghai in March this year and within weeks more than 100 cases were confirmed, according to the World Health Organization.
However, the number of cases dropped dramatically after the closing of live poultry markets in affected areas, the WHO said. So far, there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission, it added.
As of November 6, the WHO said it had been informed of a total of 139 laboratory-confirmed human cases of the H7N9 virus, including 45 deaths.
Ko said Hong Kong said it had suspended the import of live chickens from three farms in Shenzhen and would inspect Hong Kong chicken farms and poultry wholesale markets.
Hong Kong takes the threat of new disease extremely seriously after Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS first emerged in the city in 2003. The outbreak went on to infect 8,096 people and kill 744 worldwide.
On Monday, Shanghai said it will suspend live poultry trading from January 31 until April 30 to prevent a recurrence of this year's bird flu outbreak, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.