Photo by John Li / Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Just weeks after the Obama administration approved Royal Dutch Shell's plan to resume drilling in the Arctic, a federal agency has concluded the oil giant failed to properly assess risks during the company's last trip to the icy region in 2012.
The report, released Thursday by the National Transportation Safety Board, asserts Shell is "ultimately responsible" for the nearly disastrous grounding of the Kulluk oil rig off the coast of Alaska in 2012. The Kulluk was carrying 143,000 gallons of diesel fuel and 12,000 gallons of other petroleum products when its towing operations failed, leaving the motorless vessel drifting in volatile arctic waters before eventually slamming into Kodiak Island off the Alaskan Coast. A disastrous oil spill was avoided in part because of the quick response of rescue crews which were able to tow the rig to safety. Nonetheless, authorities blame Shell for the grounding.
"The probable cause of the grounding of the mobile offshore drilling unit Kulluk was Shell's inadequate assessment of the risk for its planned tow," the NTSB said before adding that Shell and its contractors should have "either mitigated those risks or departed at a time of year when severe weather was less likely."
Royal Dutch Shell did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment. But the company has repeatedly stated that its 2012 problems were tied to transportation issues, not drilling, and that the Obama administration's approval signals the confidence regulators have in their plan.
The NTSB report asserts the potential hazards facing the Kulluk's route were known to Shell and its contractors, but the oil giant went ahead with its plan anyway. In a blunt passage, the report states that a tow master sent an email to Shell officials warning them of the dangers of their proposed route.
"I believe that this length of tow, at this time of year, in this location, with our current routing guarantees an ***kicking," the email read, according to the NTSB report.
The report is the latest to critique Shell's history in the arctic.
In 2013, the U.S. Interior Department released a report saying that Shell’s difficulties in the Arctic “raised serious questions regarding its ability to operate safely and responsibly in the challenging and unpredictable conditions offshore Alaska.” The report recommended the company halt drilling until all safety issues were addressed. Then in 2014, the U.S. Coast Guard issued its own report on the Kulluk incident, which found that it was caused by the company’s “inadequate assessment and management of risks.” Finally in 2015, The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency that approved Shell’s plan for drilling in the Chukchi Sea, stated in a February report that there was a “75% chance of one or more large spills” occurring in the area over the next 77 years in addition to hundreds of “minor spills” if oil exploration was expanded in the region.
For years, Shell has eyed the icy waters of the Chukchi Sea for its oil reserves, a remote area off the coast of Alaska, considered by both environmental groups and industry officials to be one of the riskiest places in the world to drill for oil. The closest Coast Guard station with equipment for responding to an oil spill is over 1,000 miles away, making it difficult for rescue and cleanup crews to reach the area in the event of an accident.
Thursday's NTSB report was released the same day President Obama took to his personal Twitter account to answer questions about climate change, where he defended his decision to grant Shell permission to resume drilling in the Arctic.
"But since we can't prevent oil exploration completely in region we're setting the highest possible standards," Obama wrote. The president also pointed out that his administration had rejected an earlier plan submitted by Shell and has already shut off the most sensitive Arctic areas to drilling.
Critics argue preventing oil exploration in the Arctic is well within the president's powers, calling on Obama to place a drilling moratorium on the Chukchi Sea or declare it a marine sanctuary.
Just last week, Alaska saw temperatures in the 90s, shattering previous records for the state's hottest day this early in the summer, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"Shell helped melt the Arctic and now they want to drill in the thawing waters; it beggars belief that the Obama administration is willing to abet what amounts to one of the greatest acts of corporate irresponsibility in the planet's history," Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, an environmental advocacy group, said in a statement earlier this month.
Shell has said it hopes to return to the Arctic this summer, pending necessary permits from state and federal agencies.
Between two and four million years old, it’s relatively young -- as astronomical objects go. The stars in the cluster, some of the brightest ever discovered, are so glowing and massive they will burn out and fade in just a few million years, a very short life for a star.
Earthlings won’t be dazzled by their glow any time soon though: the Arches Cluster is 25,000 light years from earth and obscured by giant dust clouds, remaining invisible to earth-bound eyeballs.
zabelin/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- In the past nine months, the flow of foreigners traveling to Syria to join ISIS has jumped 70 percent, the United Nations says.
That’s more than 25,000 people, according to the U.N.'s monitoring teams. The new data is a sharp uptick from the U.N.’s last release in November, which estimated roughly 15,000 foreigners had joined in the fighting.
That number includes at least 180 Americans who have tried--some successfully--to fight in Syria.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says this means there are more foreigners on the frontlines, and they hail from over half the of the world’s countries (4,000 are from "Western" countries).
“They are increasingly mobile, adaptable, and brutal,” Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said of the fighters. “And, the threat increasingly includes people committing attacks where they live after returning home.”
The U.N. report released Friday morning found that the majority of countries studied have very little in place to prevent people from traveling to join up with fighters in Syria.
And increasingly, the travelers aren’t just men, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says.
“Most [fighters] are young males aged between 15 to and 35 motivated by extremist ideologies,” Ki-moon said. “However, we should also address the conditions and factors leading women and girls to join the ranks of Da’esh and other terrorist groups.”
The U.N. and the U.S. Homeland Security department say they are renewing their efforts to stop the flow of people into ISIS, by increasing prosecutions and investigations and stepping up domestic counter-terrorism programs.
The report also highlights the need for more efforts to curb fighters joining from the Middle East and North Africa, areas where the majority of the foreigners are reportedly coming from.
iStock/Thinkstock(BEIJING) -- China destroyed nearly 1,500 pounds of smuggled ivory Friday morning to show its commitment to curbing the illegal ivory trade.
At a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center in a Beijing suburb, forestry and customs officials displayed a pile of ivory ornaments, carvings and tusks. They then fed them into machines, which pulverized them. Officials say this is the third public destruction of confiscated elephant ivory in China since 2014.
China is the world’s largest consumer of smuggled tusks; the skyrocketing demand has led to an underground trade, with criminal gangs slaughtering tens of thousands of African elephants each year for Asian markets. Conservationists have warned the animal could be wiped out in the next two decades.
The Chinese government announced in February that it would ban imports of carved ivory for one year. This announcement was made 10 days before Prince William’s visit to China, where people are aware of the British royal’s activities in elephant conservation.
Black market sales of ivory in China, though, are still rampant. Customs in the eastern city of Hangzhou announced Thursday that they have confiscated nearly 600 pounds of smuggled ivory since last June. One woman was caught hiding the products inside boxes of red wine and chocolate in her hand luggage, according to the People’s Daily Online report.
The illegal ivory trade has moved from traditional markets to online, according to a survey done by the British group Traffic. China’s booming e-commerce websites are carrying thousands of advertisements for illegal wildlife products, and half of the advertisements are for ivory.
iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- Dozens of onlookers pushed a double-decker bus off a cyclist whose leg was trapped under the vehicle after a collision in east London Thursday, a witness told ABC News.
“They tried lifting the bus for about fifteen minutes before help came,” Mustafa, an employee at a nearby store who declined to give has last name, said.
In a video published on social media, screams are heard and bystanders are seen rushing to the scene to rescue the man and move the bus off his crushed legs.
The male cyclist was believed to have been riding a unicycle, police told ABC News in a statement. He was taken to hospital where he remains in serious but stable condition, the police statement added.
iStock/Thinkstock(SANAA, Yemen) -- It’s been just more than two months since a Saudi Arabia-led coalition began its airstrike campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, and the country has since become a “humanitarian catastrophe,” experts said Thursday.
“I am shocked about what I have seen,” said Medecins Sans Frontieres’ Middle East Operations Manager Pablo Marco, who spent 50 days inside the country recently. “The biggest problem is the fact both parties in the conflict are not respecting the civilians and, specifically, they are not respecting medical facilities and medical staff.”
Marco was one in a panel of three experts in Washington who took a hard line against attacks by the Houthis as well as the 10-country coalition engaged in a bombing campaign against them for the past 10 weeks. The U.S. provides intelligence and material support to that Arab-led coalition.
The World Health Organization said on Wednesday that more than 2,000 people have been killed and more than 8,000 injured in the conflict since airstrikes began, and that 8.6 million people are in urgent need of medical help.
In the past, Saudi Arabia has pushed back against reports of civilians being targeted by its airstrikes and said the coalition has "exercised restraint."
Last week, U.S. State Department press director Jeff Rathke said the only solution to Yemen's crisis is "to get back to the political dialogue process," adding, "the Houthis have to cease unilateral aggressive actions inside Yemen in order for that to have a chance.”
Rathke added that the U.S. has urged "Saudi and other authorities to continue to allow commercial shipments of fuel and food to avert a humanitarian crisis for the 16 million Yemenis in need of assistance. And we also understand that humanitarian aid organizations and the United Nations will continue to try to deliver aid as conditions permit.”
However, the panel said dozens of hospitals have had to shut down inside the country, and nearly all that are still operating are powered by generators.
“We are witnessing how the whole health system in the country is literally coming to a halt,” Marco said. “In a matter of 15 days or two weeks there will be hundreds of people who will be dying from this.”
Philippe Bolopion, a crisis advocacy director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), said his teams have documented cases where coalition airstrikes have caused “disproportionate damage” to the civilian population.
He said HRW has called on the U.S. to exercise pressure on the coalition.
“They have made the case that they are supportive to the coalition but are not a party to the conflict,” Bolopion said. “We are trying to challenge that a little bit, because according to publicly available information the U.S. has been refueling war planes in the air, providing intelligence possibly on some targets, helping with coordination. And if they are in some cases they are a party to the conflict, they could be found to be complicit to some of the violations that have occurred.”
The panel said the Houthis share some of the blame for lack of access to those in need of medical assistance, citing sniper attacks and bombings around hospitals.
“One of the more shocking things is that they reacted to the start of the military operation by recruiting even more children in their ranks,” Bolopion said.
The panel said that the coalition could provide some relief to the health crisis by easing the tight control of Yemen’s border and ports. Bolopion called it “a blockade,” and said it hindered efforts to provide aid to the population during the five-day humanitarian cease-fire earlier this month.
Bolopion said Yemen receives almost 80 percent of its food supply from international shipments.
“It’s hugely dependent on the outside, and the same thing for fuel,” Bolopion said.
Many have classified the conflict in Yemen since Saudi intervention as a proxy war, citing the Houthis’ alignment with Iran.
Robert Blecher, deputy director of the International Crisis Group, said the poor execution of the airstrike campaign has exacerbated a more domestic conflict into a regional powder-keg.
“The longer this goes on, the more and more the Houthis will be forced to have an external patron,” Blecher said. “The highest probability of a direct Iranian-Saudi clash is in Yemen right now.”
With the coalition focusing on the Houthis and the U.S. counterterrorism operations in the country severely hindered, Blecher said it has afforded al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula “more territory than it has ever held before.”
“So far, the biggest winner politically of the fighting probably has been al Qaeda,” Blecher said. “We’ve seen around the region -- look at Syria, look at Iraq, look at what’s happening in Libya -- the longer these conflicts go on, the more ribbed these extremists become.”
Chris Jackson/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince William says he may have a hard time doing the “responsible” thing when it comes to letting his nearly 2-year-old son, Prince George, make up his own mind about English soccer teams.
“The responsible thing would be to say, to let [George] make his own mind up, but I think I might be quite biased," William, a devoted Aston Villa fan, told BBC Sport.
“I haven't quite worked out how to play that yet,” William, 32, said. "Of course, he can support whoever he wants, but if he supports Villa, it'd be fantastic.”
“It'll probably end up being that Charlotte is the Villa fan and George will go and support someone else!,” William said, referring to his newborn daughter.
William’s interview with the BBC marked his first broadcast interview since the birth of Charlotte, his first daughter, earlier this month.
The prince, the president of the Football Association, the governing body of football in England, revealed how he became a diehard fan of Aston Villa, a team that has not won the FA Cup since 1957, according to the BBC.
“I was looking round for clubs to support and all my friends at school were either Manchester United fans or Chelsea fans," William said. “I didn't really want to follow the run-of-the-mill teams, and I wanted to have a team that was more middle of the table, that could give me the more emotional roller coaster moments.”
“To be honest, now looking back, that was a bad idea…I could have had an easier time!,” he joked.
Aston Villa will play in the FA Cup final this Saturday in Wembley, against Arsenal, and Prince William will be there in person to cheer on his team.
Prince George will not join him at this Saturday’s championship game, but Prince William says he hopes to share his love of soccer with his son, if his wife, Duchess Kate, approves.
“I'd love to go to the odd match with him in the future,” William said. "I'll have to pass that by the missus, see how I can get away with it."
ABC News(NEW YORK) -- For untold generations, villagers, young and old, living along the torrent Nujiang, or “Nu River” in China’s southwestern Yunnan province, have used makeshift ziplines to crisscross its banks.
But as the new China of high-speed trains, highways and unbridled construction encroaches on this remote corner of the country, these ziplines are quickly disappearing, making way for bridges. The villagers who live along cliffs of the Nujiang may be the last generation of zipliners.
The Nujiang is the last free-flowing, undammed river in Asia. It carves its way from the Tibetan plateau through China, Myanmar and Thailand before emptying into the Andaman Sea. The Nujiang river valley cuts so deep that the area is sometimes known as China’s Grand Canyon, presenting a challenge for farmers who need to cross.
The communities that live along the Nujiang are mostly members of the Lisu ethnic minorities, a hill tribe that have ziplining in their blood.
When asked about using the ziplines now, villagers of the Lisu ethnic minority pointed to the government-built bridges that are quickly replacing their traditional form of mode of transportation. Decades earlier the local provincial government had helped upgrade ziplines from bamboo-made cables to steel but today many of the harnesses are homemade.
In one village called Boa, locals zipped back and forth as they took their kids to school. Others were heading to jobs or to pick up supplies. For the time being, the ziplines remain the fastest way to get across the river from Boa.
The Chinese government have plans to build at least four new hydro-electric dams on the untouched river, although environmental advocates are pushing back. Although the plan has yet to be fully approved, preparation for dams has already started as earth-moving machinery dot the winding road that runs along the Nujiang.
A 90-year-old grandmother named Qiu Maqian told ABC News' Nightline that she grew up in Boa and has used the ziplines since the 1930s, back when the lines were made of bamboo. Metal lines replaced the bamboo in the 1970s. She said she will not be around to watch the changes, and that ziplining has been a big part of her life but she said she knows that will not last much longer.
A 17-year-old Boa villager named Pu Shaheng may be the last generation of Nujiang zipliners, but he told Nightline that he feels life will be easier when bridges and highways come into town.
Pu then paused and added the idea of the ziplines going away made him sad because it’s a lifestyle his kids and generations to come will never know.
Workers carrying out an excavation at the Atapuerca archaeological site, participating in the '2010 season' of digging, prepare to go down to the 'Sima de los Huesos' on July 21, 2010. The sites in this area were found during excavation of railway cuttings. CESAR MANSO/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) – Scientists digging in a pit in the mountains of Spain have discovered what they believe is the earliest known evidence of a murder.
Working at Sima de Los Huesos, or the "Pit Of Bones," on the northern coast of the country, the team found a skull with two fractures on it. Those blows to the head indicate a violent death, according to their paper in the journal PLOS One.
The skull is believed to be from a Neanderthal and dates back roughly 430,000 years, the researchers said.
The two fractures on the head indicate a blunt-force trauma. The researchers said it would be near impossible for the death to have been by accident, since the Neanderthal would have had to accidentally run into the same object twice.
“Given that either of the two traumatic events was likely lethal, the presence of multiple blows implies an intention to kill,” the authors wrote in the study.
Nohemi Sala, lead author on the study, said that while researchers suspected murder, they were not sure how the murder happened.
"We will never know what the weapon was," Sala told ABC News.
The sun rose in Inuvik, Canada at 2:30 a.m. on May 24, 2015 and will not set until July 20, 2015. Courtesy Jackie Challis(INUVIK, Canada) -- Residents of Inuvik, Canada, are having midnight barbecues and going fishing and tanning at 3 a.m.
No, they aren't crazy. They're just celebrating and soaking up the 24/7 sunlight shining down on them for 56 consecutive days.
The northwestern Canadian town is part of a small region around the globe north of the Arctic Circle currently experiencing a phenomenon known as "midnight sun," when the sun remains visible at midnight or later local time.
"Our last sunrise was at 2:30 a.m. this past Sunday, and our next sunset won't be until July 20," Inuvik tourism department manager Jackie Challis told ABC News Thursday. "The sun will just be up high in the sky hovering above the horizon for the next few weeks."
Challis also posted to her Twitter account about the weeks-long sunshine.
And if you're jealous of the round-the-clock sunshine, just note that Inuvik went through a whole month of complete darkness this past winter.
"Last Dec. 6, the sun set and it didn't rise again until the 6th of January," Challis said. "That weekend, we had what we call a sunrise festival -- three days of drum dancing, ice carving, igloos, food tents, fireworks and just people coming together to celebrate the return of the sun."
Challis added that the town also went through an abrupt temperature change recently. Just last week, it was 14 degrees and there was snow on the ground, she said. But Thursday, it was a comfortable 68 degrees, and green leaves could be seen sprouting on trees.
The town's 3,400 residents, some of whom come from families that have lived there for thousands of years, are used to the extreme weather changes, Challis said.
"We just adapt naturally," she said. "In the winter, we sleep in a lot longer, and when the sun's out we like to stay out longer."
Other cities in the Northwestern Territory of Canada are also experiencing "midnight sun," though not 24/7 like Inuvik.
"For those who haven't seen the midnight sun, it's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing," Challis said. "There's nothing quite like it."
Jon Gorr/iStock/Thinkstock(SANA'A, Yemen) -- The situation in Yemen, where Houthi rebels have taken control of swaths of land, is growing worse, World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said in a statement Thursday.
Just over two months into the conflict, the WHO is reporting nearly 2,000 people killed and 8,000 injured. Those figures, Chan notes, include hundreds of women and children.
With almost 8.6 million people "in urgent need of medical help," Chan says the WHO sent about 48 tons of medicine into Yemen during a five-day cease-fire earlier this month. That medicine, she noted, served about 400,000 people.
"As the conflict continues, more lives are lost every day," Chan said. "Not just due to the violence, but as a health system that has been seriously damaged barely copes with the extraordinary needs posed by the unrelenting violent conflict and can no loner provide them with the health services they need to stay alive."
"The health and lives of millions of people are at risk," she urged.
"This unnecessary loss of innocent lives cannot go on," concluded Chan. "All parties must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians, health facilities and health staff during conflict and to permit the supply of vital humanitarian aid...to areas where it is needed most."
benstevens/iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) -- The United Kingdom's Methodist Church issued a "full and unreserved apology" on Thursday to survivors of abuse at the hands of some of its ministers and members.
That apology came as the church published the a report concerning an independent review of past safeguarding cases related to its members between 1950 and 2014. Reverend Dr. Martyn Atkins, secretary of the Methodist Conference, said on Thursday that he apologized on behalf of the church "for the failure of its current and earlier processes fully to protect children, young people and adults from physical and sexual abuse inflicted by some ministers in Full Connexion and members of the Methodist Church."
Atkins called the history of abuse "a deep source of grief and shame to the Church."
"We have not always listened properly to those abused or cared for them," he added, "and this is deeply regrettable." Atkins did, however, vow that the Methodist Conference will "do all in its power to improve its systems to protect children, young people and adults from abuse within the life of the Church and on Church premises, and to review them diligently on a regular basis."
The report found 1,885 cases of abuse, with 476 involving ministers or church lay employees.
In total, more than 2,500 allegations of abuse were cataloged in the report, including 914 sexual assault claims.
Dorling Kindersley RF/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- As the soccer world reels from the biggest scandal to hit its sport in recent history, the South African government is fighting back against allegations that it attempted to buy votes in order to host the 2010 World Cup.
“When we concluded the FIFA World Cup here in South Africa we got a clean audit report,” South African Ministry in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said in Cape Town, according to the AFP. “There has never been any suggestion that anything untoward happened in South Africa.”
In an indictment unsealed Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice accused South African officials of offering to pay $10 million to the Caribbean Football Union (CFU) to “support the African diaspora” in 2004, months ahead of the 2010 World Cup venue selection. The DOJ said the money was meant to ensure that then-CFU President Jack Warner, a FIFA executive and current defendant in the FIFA scandal, and two other unnamed co-conspirators would vote for South Africa to be the 2010 World Cup host.
Warner agreed to the deal, but after South Africa won its bid, the country said it could not pay the FIFA officials directly, according to the indictment. Instead, FIFA officials allegedly took $10 million from their own accounts that would have gone to South Africa to support the World Cup and gave it to the CFU.
Prior to that incident, the indictment claims that in the course of South Africa’s relationship with Warner, at one point a “high-ranking South African bid committee official” met a co-conspirator of Warner’s in a Paris hotel room, where the South African official handed over a briefcase full of American money in $10,000 stacks.
The AFP noted that South Africa’s Radebe did not directly address the specific DOJ allegations in his comments to reporters. Warner, who was a central player in several alleged schemes detailed by the DOJ, said in a video posted online Wednesday that he always “conducted [himself] with all FIFA sports practices.” Warner turned himself into local authorities in Trinidad and Tobago Wednesday.
South Africa’s alleged wrongdoing is just one of a series of purported schemes described in the 47-count indictment against 14 people, nine of them high-ranking current or former FIFA officials, unsealed yesterday. Other allegations include conspiracies to secure broadcast or merchandising rights to various football federations or tournaments.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who has not been accused of wrongdoing by the DOJ, said the corruption in the world of football “has to stop here and now.”
“We cannot allow the reputation of football and FIFA to be dragged through the mud,” he said. “Let this be the turning point."