The Daily Grist: Feb. 12

Shape Up or Ship Out
Texas Ship-Inspection Company Implicated in Prestige Tanker Disaster

Negligence on the part of the Texas-based American Bureau of Shipping -- a company that conducts safety inspections of ships -- could be to blame for the notorious Prestige tanker disaster, which spilled millions of gallons of oil off the coast of Spain 15 months ago and affected or destroyed the livelihoods of some 100,000 fishers and other Spaniards. So say two lawsuits pending against ABS, which seek a combined total of $1 billion in damages from the company. Though numerous problems had been found with the ship over the years and one past captain had quit the vessel because of its poor condition, ABS inspected and approved the Prestige shortly before the disaster. A number of previous, unrelated lawsuits have also accused ABS of shoddy practices that have led to shipping accidents, deaths of crew members, and environmental damage.

•straight to the source: Houston Press, Josh Harkinson, 12 Feb 2004

Hot Spots You Won't Want to Visit
With Feds Slow to Tackle Mercury Pollution, State Leaders Step Up

The U.S. EPA failed to comply with two executive orders requiring it to study how children, minorities, and low-income populations would be affected by the Bush administration's plan for coping with mercury emissions from power plants. This news is particularly troubling to enviros and public-health advocates because kids are believed to be more vulnerable to mercury than adults, and mercury emissions are thought to create toxic "hot spots" in the mostly low-income communities immediately surrounding power plants. State legislators from six Midwestern states, fed up with the Bush administration's failure to aggressively deal with the mercury problem, are teaming up in an effort to pass state-level legislation that would cut mercury emissions from coal-burning plants. Get all the latest mercury tidbits in our Muckraker column -- only on the Grist Magazine website.

•only in Grist: Hot spot and bothered -- in Muckraker

Nativity Scene
Native Peoples Speak Up for Their Lands

Indigenous peoples are rallying for their lands and their rights this week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where a major U.N. convention on biodiversity is taking place. Representatives of native peoples are demanding the right to reject development projects on their ancestral lands, saying that multinational companies should not be able to plunder these areas for profit. Indigenous groups are also speaking out against governments that force natives off their homelands in order to create national parks and nature preserves, and criticizing pharmaceutical companies that try to patent generations-old medicinal and agricultural practices. An estimated half million indigenous people have been displaced in Africa, and plenty more in Asia, South America, and Europe, say activists. "We are linked to our land," said Sinafasi Makelo, a representative of the Mbuti pygmies of Congo. "We must not be ordered to leave for money or material compensation."

•straight to the source: The Sun Herald, Associated Press, Sean Yoong, 11 Feb 2004
•straight to the source: Terra Daily, Agence France-Presse, 11 Feb 2004

Got to Admit It's Getting Bettors
Bettors Will Get a Chance to Help Save Albatrosses

A well-known bookie is teaming up with enviros in a creative effort to help save albatrosses, sea birds that are increasingly threatened by a fishing technique called longlining, which involves the use of tens of thousands of baited hooks dragged behind trawlers for 60 miles or more. Conservationists estimate that as many as 100,000 albatrosses and 200,000 other birds are killed each year when they get hooked on the fishing lines and drown. In order to raise awareness of the albatrosses' plight and generate funds for their protection, the U.K.-based Conservation Foundation is sponsoring a "Big Bird Race" that will track some two dozen albatrosses during a five-month migration from islands off Tasmania, Australia, to South Africa's Cape Horn. A British bookie will take bets on the albatrosses' progress and speed, with proceeds going toward conservation efforts, and bettors will be able to track the birds' status online.

straight to the source: MSNBC.com, Miguel Llanos, 12 Feb 2004

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