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Indian Navy frees ship hijacked by Somali pirates

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Indian Navy frees ship hijacked by Somali pirates

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India’s navy said it freed a ship that had been captured by Somali hijackers and rescued the crew, amid fears that piracy was once again on the rise in the region.

An Indian warship intercepted the Bulgarian-owned bulk carrier Ruen, which was hijacked in December, on Friday before forcing the 35 pirates aboard the vessel to surrender on Saturday evening, the navy said.

It added that none of the Ruen’s 17 crew members were injured in the incident, which took place 2,600km off the Indian coast.

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Analysts warn that attacks by Houthi rebels on commercial shipping in the Red Sea have created an opportunity for a revival of the piracy that had menaced maritime trade in recent decades.

International forces deployed to the region have focused their efforts on protecting ships from the wave of Houthi attacks launched since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. Ships have also rerouted away from the more heavily patrolled Red Sea and Suez Canal into the Indian Ocean.

Pirates last week seized another ship, the Abdullah, off the coast of Somalia. It had been carrying coal to the United Arab Emirates.

The rescue mission was a success for India, which has sought to play a more active role in global maritime security, joining the US, EU and others in deploying forces to protect commercial shipping from the Houthi attacks.

The Indian navy also thwarted a shortlived pirate hijacking of another ship, the Lila Norfolk, in January. India is “committed to maritime security and safety of seafarers”, the navy said in a statement on Saturday.

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At the peak of their activities over a decade ago, Somali pirates were responsible for hundreds of attacks a year on commercial ships before an international campaign to increase security in the Indian Ocean succeeded in bringing the number of hijackings down.

The head of the UN’s International Maritime Organization last month told the Financial Times that shipping companies needed to once again bolster security to prevent a return of widescale piracy.

Houthi rebels have attacks dozens of ships since the start of the war in Gaza, killing three seafarers in an attack this month and sinking a dry bulk carrier in February.

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US and UK launch crackdown on Russian metals trade

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US and UK launch crackdown on Russian metals trade

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The US and the UK have launched a crackdown on trades in Russian metals, in a move designed to limit Moscow’s export revenue and restrict its ability to fund the war in Ukraine.

The action, announced by the two countries on Friday, marks an aggressive effort by the allies to damage Russia’s income — but could disrupt trading at exchanges including the London Metal Exchange and Chicago Mercantile Exchange.

“Our new prohibitions on key metals, in co-ordination with our partners in the United Kingdom, will continue to target the revenue Russia can earn to continue its brutal war against Ukraine,” said Janet Yellen, the US Treasury secretary.

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She added that the US and UK were “taking this action in a targeted and responsible manner” in order to protect “our partners and allies from unwanted spillover effects”.

The action will affect trade in aluminium, nickel and copper. Officials said Russia had made $40bn from sales of the metals over the past two years, while it has been fighting in Ukraine.

The US and its allies had been wary of sanctioning Russia’s metals sector at the start of the full-blown invasion of Ukraine in 2022, fearing disruption to global commodity markets.

The move against Russian metals follows the G7’s campaign to curb Moscow’s revenues from crude and petroleum exports, including through a price cap on seaborne oil trades involving western shipping servicers.

It includes a ban on imports of Russian-origin metals into the US. It also prohibits the provision of warranting services for the metals and bans services to acquire the metals as part of the physical settlement of a derivative contract.

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The LME and CME will not be able to trade any new Russian aluminium, copper or nickel.

“We are confident that Russian origin metals will not find their way on to these exchange,” a US Treasury official said. Trades carried out under bilateral contracts will be unaffected by the move by the US and UK.

Russia supplies about 6 per cent of the world’s aluminium, 5 per cent of nickel and 4 per cent of copper, according to CRU Group, a consultancy.

The US and UK have placed sanctions on several Russian metals producers already but the move on Friday is the first time that it has placed a blanket ban on certain Russian minerals trading on the world’s largest metals exchanges.

The earlier resistance to a Russian metal ban stemmed from fears of new disruption to European industry and the possibility that Moscow could retaliate by cutting off supplies of palladium, which is crucial to the region’s car industry.

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Large stockpiles of Russian metals have been building up in LME warehouses, creating concerns that the surplus could distort the market.

For example, more than 90 per cent of aluminium inventories at LME sites are Russian, according to the exchange’s latest data. These existing inventories would not be affected by sanctions in order to “minimise the risk to market stability”, the two countries said.

Because of such concerns, the LME, the world’s largest marketplace for metals, had reviewed banning Russian metal in 2022 but said that it would ultimately be guided by government sanctions.

Officials claim the measures will not raise the price of the metals affected by the ban.

“We understand from our consultations with a lot of market participants in the industry that their view is essentially that a lot of these [metals] are in surplus,” a US Treasury official said, adding that they did not expect the actions to affect US consumers or producers.

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The LME said in a statement that it would issue guidance to the market by 11am on Sunday on how the UK legislation affects the position of Russian metals on the exchange.

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CDC warns that measles spike poses a 'renewed threat' to the disease's elimination

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CDC warns that measles spike poses a 'renewed threat' to the disease's elimination

So far in 2024, more than 80% of measles cases involved people who were unvaccinated or whose vaccination status was unknown, according to CDC data.

Elaine Thompson/AP


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Elaine Thompson/AP


So far in 2024, more than 80% of measles cases involved people who were unvaccinated or whose vaccination status was unknown, according to CDC data.

Elaine Thompson/AP

A spike in measles cases, largely caused by people not getting vaccinated, poses a “renewed threat” to the declaration in 2000 that the highly contagious airborne disease had been eliminated in the United States.

“The U.S. measles elimination status will continue to be threatened by global increases in measles incidence and decreases in global, national, and local measles vaccination coverage,” the CDC said in a report released Thursday. Elimination status means the disease is no longer constantly present in the country.

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So far this year, the country has seen more than 120 cases of measles, according to CDC data. That’s more than double the number reported for all of last year.

The CDC said “the rapid increase in the number of reported measles cases during the first quarter of 2024 represents a renewed threat to elimination.”

The chances of widespread measles transmission in the U.S. remain low given the country’s “high population immunity,” the agency added. But the rise in cases is especially dangerous for infants and undervaccinated communities.

The uptick comes five years after the measles cases reached the highest level in over two decades. In 2019, the CDC tallied over 1,200 cases in 31 states, largely in undervaccinated communities in New York state.

Measles is also on the rise globally. According to the World Health Organization, there were about 9 million cases in 2022 — an 18% increase from 2021. The number of deaths rose 43% in 2022 compared to the prior year.

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What the CDC data says

Nearly half of the cases so far this year occurred among children under 5. Nearly a third came from adults 20 years and older.

Cases are typically linked to people who have traveled abroad. But vaccine skepticism and communities with low vaccination rates have also contributed to the spike.

CDC data showed that more than 80% of cases this year involved people who were either not vaccinated or whose vaccination status was unknown. About 13% of cases involved people who only received one dose of the measles vaccine. Public health officials recommend two doses.

As of April 4, 17 states recorded cases, with Illinois and Florida seeing the most number of sick patients.

Why a measles outbreak is dangerous

Measles’ symptoms include a fever, cough, runny nose, white spots inside the mouth, and rashes that spread across the body. Most cases are mild, but sometimes it can lead to brain swelling, pneumonia and death.

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The danger is in how contagious measles can be. If an infected person coughed in a room, 90% of unvaccinated people in that room could get sick.

Federal health officials recommend that all children get two doses of the measles vaccine: the first dose at 12 to 15 months of age and a second dose at 4 to 6 years old.

Adults who are planning to travel abroad and women who are considering getting pregnant should check on their vaccination status, the CDC said.

What it would take for the U.S. to lose its measles elimination status

Before a vaccine was introduced, the illness killed hundreds of people and sickened most children in the U.S. before they turned 15. That all changed in 1963 when a vaccine became available.

In 2000, measles was declared eliminated from the U.S., meaning the disease was no longer “constantly present” the CDC said. But the U.S. is at risk of losing its elimination status if a measles outbreak continues for a year or more, the agency added.

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Dr. Allison Bartlett, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago’s medical school, told NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday that the uptick in cases is a “very serious wake-up call.”

“This is a very, very preventable illness by vaccination. But it requires very high levels of individuals being vaccinated,” Bartlett said earlier this month.

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Dollar on course for strongest week since 2022

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Dollar on course for strongest week since 2022

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The dollar is on course for its strongest weekly performance since 2022 after outsize US inflation figures caused ripples through world markets.

The US currency has strengthened by 1.6 per cent against a basket of six currencies since Monday, its best weekly performance since September 2022, as traders reversed bets on early interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve.

The euro and sterling fell to their weakest levels against the dollar since November on Friday at $1.0642 and $1.2447, respectively, while the yen sank to a 34-year low, before recovering to ¥153.13.

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Sterling’s decline also contributed to a 0.9 per cent rise in UK stocks on Friday, as the FTSE 100, whose constituent companies draw most of their revenues in dollars, ended the day’s trading just short of a record close.

“The US is its own special case with very loose fiscal policy and now tight monetary policy, which is a recipe for a stronger dollar,” said Quentin Fitzsimmons, a senior portfolio manager at T Rowe Price. “The buzzword that is going through markets at the moment is divergence.”

This week’s increase in US consumer price inflation — which hit a higher than expected 3.5 per cent for March — has prompted traders to increase bets that the Fed might deliver as few as one rate cut this year.

That compares with expectations of as many as six quarter-point cuts at the start of January. 

On Thursday, the European Central Bank signalled it was still on course to deliver interest rate cuts in June. Pressure on the euro increased because of growing expectations that eurozone interest rates will fall ahead of those in the US.

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As of Friday afternoon, the single currency was down 1.8 per cent on the week, the biggest weekly decline since September 2022.

“It looks like a happily divergent ECB has sent the euro weaker against the dollar,” said Chris Turner, head of global markets at ING.

The shift in sentiment helped push the spread — or gap — between benchmark 10-year US and German government borrowing costs to 2.17 percentage points, its highest level since 2019.

Speculation also rose that Sweden’s Riksbank could cut interest rates as soon as May after the country reported lower than expected inflation on Friday.

Sustained dollar strength could cause problems for countries looking to cut rates without undermining their currencies and accelerating price rises.

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The outlook has been complicated by a surge in oil prices, with Brent crude topping $92 a barrel for the first time since October on Friday amid rising fears of a widening conflict in the Middle East.

“Other central banks clearly don’t want their currencies to weaken materially . . . what it means is effectively you will end up importing more inflation” said James Novotny, a portfolio manager at Jupiter Asset Management. 

Markets are betting that the ECB will deliver at least three quarter-point cuts by the end of the year, compared with two reductions for the Bank of England and only one or two for the Fed.

Japan’s currency has suffered most from the rise in US rate expectations, which has pushed the yen to its weakest level since 1990, putting the finance ministry on red alert for a possible intervention. 

Masato Kanda, Japan’s vice-finance minister for international affairs, told reporters on Thursday that authorities would not rule out any measures to address excessive moves in the exchange rate.

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Mark Dowding, chief investment officer at RBC BlueBay Asset Management, said the impact of any intervention would be expensive and temporary. 

“The yen has been undermined by policy from the [Bank of Japan], which is too accommodative,” he said. “It looks like the yen remains vulnerable just because the policy gap remains achingly wide.”

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