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OceanGate submarine implosion draws attention to murky regulations of deep-sea expeditions

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Tourist sub’s implosion draws attention to murky regulations of deep-sea expeditions

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — When the Titan submersible made its fateful dive into the North Atlantic on Sunday, it also plunged into the murkily regulated waters of deep-sea exploration.

It’s a space on the high seas where laws and conventions can be sidestepped by risk-taking entrepreneurs and the wealthy tourists who help fund their dreams. At least for now.

“We’re at a point in submersible operations in deep water that’s kind of akin to where aviation was in the early 20th century,” said Salvatore Mercogliano, a history professor at Campbell University in North Carolina who focuses on maritime history and policy.

“Aviation was in its infancy — and it took accidents for decisions to be made to be put into laws,” Mercogliano said. “There’ll be a time when you won’t think twice about getting on a submersible and going down 13,000 feet. But we’re not there yet.”

Thursday’s announcement by the U.S. Coast Guard that the Titan had imploded near the Titanic shipwreck, killing all five people on board, has drawn attention to how these expeditions are regulated.

Mercogliano said such operations are scrutinized less than the companies that launch people into space. In the Titan’s case, that’s in part because it operated in international waters, far from the reach of many laws of the United States or other nations.

The Titan wasn’t registered as a U.S. vessel or with international agencies that regulate safety, Mercogliano added. Nor was it classified by a maritime industry group that sets standards on matters such as hull construction.

Stockton Rush, the OceanGate CEO who died on Titan, had said he didn’t want to be bogged down by such standards.

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“Bringing an outside entity up to speed on every innovation before it is put into real-world testing is anathema to rapid innovation,” Rush wrote in a blog post on his company’s website.

The Titan was a small vessel that was launched from another ship, the Canadian icebreaker Polar Prince, a setup that Mercogliano likened to pulling a boat on a trailer, in terms of regulatory purposes.

“The highway patrol has jurisdiction over the car and over the trailer, but not over the boat,” he said. “The boat is cargo.”

Experts say wrongful death and negligence lawsuits are likely in the Titan case — and they could be successful. But legal actions will face various challenges, including waivers signed by the Titan passengers that warned of the myriad ways they could die.

Mike Reiss, a writer for “The Simpsons” television show who went on a Titanic expedition with OceanGate in 2022, recalled that his waiver said he would be “subject to extreme pressure. And any failure of the vessel could cause severe injury or death.”

“I will be exposed to risks associated with high pressure gases, pure oxygen, high voltage systems which could lead to injury, disability and death,” Reiss said Thursday, going by memory. “If I am injured, I may not receive immediate medical attention.”

Thomas Schoenbaum, a University of Washington law professor and author of the book “Admiralty and Maritime Law,” said such documents may be upheld in court if they are worded well.

“If those waivers are good, and I imagine they probably are because a lawyer probably drafted them, (families) may not be able to recover damages.”

At the same time, OceanGate could still face repercussions under the Passenger Vessel Safety Act of 1993, Schoenbaum said. But it may depend on which arm of OceanGate owned the Titan submersible.

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Rush, the late OceanGate CEO, told AP in 2021 that it was an American company. But he said OceanGate Expeditions, which led dives to the Titanic, was based in the Bahamas.

Schoenbaum said the Bahamas subsidiary has the potential to circumvent U.S. law, but courts have at times “pierced the corporate veil” and OceanGate could be found liable.

There are also questions of whether the Titan was insured or if the Canadian icebreaker’s insurance could come into play.

The countries where lawsuits may be filed could also depend on contracts signed by passengers and crew.

“I would be very surprised, in a high-risk operation like this, if the contract did not address which law applies and where any claim can be filed,” said George Rutherglen, a professor of admiralty law at the University of Virginia.

Another problem is whether OceanGate survives and, if it does, who to sue, said Steve Flynn, a retired Coast Guard officer and director of Northeastern University’s Global Resilience Institute.

The company, which closed its Washington office in the aftermath of the tragedy, may also lack the ability to pay damages.

“If they were held liable, my guess would be they would be unlikely to have the many, many millions of dollars that if I were on a jury I would award,” said Richard Daynard, distinguished professor at Northeastern University School of Law.

In the meantime, Rutherglen said, he expects the U.S. will respond with tighter regulations given the loss of life and the millions of dollars spent by the Coast Guard.

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“These wrecks at the bottom of the sea have become more accessible with advancing technology,” Rutherglen said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily become safer to go down and take a look.”

The International Maritime Organization, which regulates commercial shipping, could take some kind of action, he added, and Congress also could pass legislation. Nations such as the U.S. could, for example, block ships engaging in such expeditions from docking in their ports.

“I would just be surprised if any incident with all of these costs involved — wrongful death, expensive rescue — would not lead to some initiatives,” he said.

Mercogliano, the Campbell University professor, said the Titan’s fatal implosion could lead to new safety regulations, just as the sinking of the Titanic did.

The Titanic disaster killed 1,500 people in 1912 and led to requirements that ships carry enough lifeboats for all passengers, among other things.

“We don’t quite have (safety standards) yet with submersibles. But I do think that one of the long-lasting implications of this disaster may be seeing that happen,” Mercogliano said.

Not everyone agrees.

Forrest Booth, a San Francisco-based partner at Kennedys Law, said the International Maritime Organization “has no authority to impose its will.”

“There could be a move for states to adopt an international treaty on the deep ocean,” Booth said via email. “But that will be resisted by some nations that want to do deep-sea mining, etc. I do not think much of substance will happen after the media attention of this event dies down.”

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Associated Press reporter Patrick Whittle in Portland, Maine, and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this story.

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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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