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Ships shun Red Sea and Suez Canal despite reduced Houthi menace

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Ships shun Red Sea and Suez Canal despite reduced Houthi menace

US and UK air strikes have reduced the risk to vessels from attacks by Yemen’s Houthis in the Red Sea but there is little prospect of many shipping companies making a swift return to the Suez Canal, security experts and a senior executive have said.

They made the assessment during a slowdown in successful missile launches by the Houthis, who claim to be targeting commercial ships in solidarity with Gaza’s Palestinians.

The militant group has launched only four notable attacks on vessels since January 26 — one on January 31, two on February 6 and one on February 12. In all but the most recent attack, the missiles failed even to hit the vessel.

The frequency of Houthi attacks has fallen significantly since US and UK forces began nearly daily strikes on the group’s missile launch sites and aerial and sea drone capabilities on January 11.

The Houthis, who have backing from Iran, launched numerous attacks in November, December and January, including seizing the Galaxy Leader on November 19 and taking the car carrier and its crew to a Yemeni port. On January 26, they started a serious fire on the Marlin Luanda, a fuel tanker operating on behalf of commodities trader Trafigura.

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The recent lull prompted UK defence secretary Grant Shapps to tell the House of Commons last week that attacks on vessels had become “less sophisticated and more sporadic” following the bombing campaign.

However, the continued reluctance of many shipping companies to sail through waters off Yemen has raised questions about what change in conditions might prompt shipping companies to start braving the area, which is the gateway to the strategically vital Suez Canal.

They have instead been using the much longer and more expensive route between Europe and Asia via the Cape of Good Hope.

Jon Gahagan, president of maritime security company Sedna Global, said the campaign of air strikes seemed to have “degraded” the Houthis’ ability to launch frequent attacks.

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But he added: “While the tempo of attacks has fallen, the threat to shipping remains.”

Jakob Larsen, head of maritime safety and security for Bimco, an international shipowners’ association, said he doubted it was “realistic” the US-UK coalition would entirely remove the Houthi threat.

“We’re concerned that it’s still possible for the Houthis to attack and hit ships,” Larsen said. “Although their capability to do so has been reduced, most shipping lines recognise that the threat has not been removed or neutralised.”

Houthi conflict threatens ocean trade through crucial shipping canal. Map showing shipping route from Shanghai to Rotterdam via the Suez Canal and Cape of Good Hope. A typical shipping journey from Shanghai to Rotterdam via the Cape of Good Hope takes up to two weeks longer than using the Suez Canal

According to figures from Clarksons, the London-based maritime business, in the week to February 5, arrivals by container ships in the Gulf of Aden were 92 per cent down on the average for the first half of December.

Car carrier arrivals were down 91 per cent, while traffic overall through the region was down 73 per cent. The figures show no drift back towards the Red Sea.

Even the relatively modest recent attacks have prompted new diversions. France’s CMA CGM, the world’s third-largest container shipping line, announced on February 5 that it was suspending transits of the region after missiles were launched at a ship operating one of its services. The line had been one of the few big international container lines still sailing through the area.

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The missiles landed harmlessly in the sea, as did those launched on February 6 at the Star Nasia, a carrier for dry bulk commodities. A missile launched on February 6 at the Morning Tide, a general cargo ship, flew over the ship’s deck but caused only minor damage. Reports on February 12 said missiles were fired at a Greek-owned bulk carrier in two separate incidents and that one hit.

Jan Rindbo, chief executive of Norden, a Copenhagen-based operator of nearly 500 dry bulk carriers and tankers for oil products, said only a long pause in attacks would prompt shipowners to re-examine Red Sea options.

“It would take a prolonged period of stability with no attacks in the region and then we’ll start to make those assessments again.”

Larsen pointed out that certain shipping companies were continuing to use the Suez route. Among the companies that have stuck to the traditional routes are some Chinese container lines, which appear to be confident the close links between China and the Houthis’ backers in Iran make them immune from attack.

“If the Houthis say they would no longer attack shipping, I think a lot of shipping lines will resume the transit through the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea,” Larsen said.

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Another possibility, he added, was that the attacks might cease, without a clear signal from the Houthis. “You’ll see more and ships transiting through, but a little later only,” Larsen said of such a scenario. “It will be a gradual increase.”

Gahagan, however, said the Houthis still wanted to strike international shipping, attributing the decline in attacks partly to a reduction in vessels with links to Israel, the UK and the US in waters off Yemen.

The risk remained that coalition forces would miss a Houthi missile fired at a ship and it would cause serious damage, he added.

“Unfortunately, as with all incidents of terrorism, the Houthis only have to be successful once, while the coalition naval force and other navies in the region have to be vigilant all the time,” Gahagan said.

Additional reporting by John Paul Rathbone

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Florida is releasing Jeffrey Epstein's grand jury report

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Florida is releasing Jeffrey Epstein's grand jury report

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein was charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors.

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U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces charges against Jeffery Epstein on July 8, 2019 in New York City. Epstein was charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of minors.

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

MIAMI — Florida says it will soon release the grand jury proceedings in Jeffrey Epstein’s 2006 sexual abuse case.

Epstein was a wealthy financier, who was charged with paying dozens of underage women over many years for sex. He died in a jail cell in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.

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More than a decade earlier, a grand jury convened in Florida’s Palm Beach County investigated allegations that he was sexually abusing young women at his estate. The grand jury ultimately returned a single charge of soliciting prostitution. Following a federal investigation, Epstein pleaded guilty in state court to two prostitution charges and received a lenient sentence. He served just 13 months in prison, leaving the jail almost every day as part of a work release deal.

At a news conference in Palm Beach, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill authorizing the release of Epstein’s grand jury records, calling it “long overdue.” He also called for the release of records from the FBI investigation of Epstein. “I would challenge Joe Biden to do that now,” he said. “There are still a lot of unanswered questions about how this happened.”

The Florida grand jury records are expected to be opened when the law goes into effect in July.

Some of Epstein’s victims were with DeSantis at the bill signing. Haley Robson was 16 years old when she was recruited and began working for Epstein. She said she hoped releasing the grand jury report will finally provide some answers. “Why was Jeffrey Epstein given such grace and mercy for his inhumane crimes? And why were we outed in the media and treated so poorly?”

Epstein had several homes, often flying guests and underage women to his estate on a private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Prince Andrew, former President Bill Clinton and attorney Alan Dershowitz were among his high-profile guests. His former girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell is currently serving a 20-year sentence for child sex trafficking while with Epstein.

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More than a decade after Epstein completed the terms of his plea deal and probation, a series of reports in the Miami Herald brought new attention to Epstein and his victims. He was awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges when he was found dead in his jail cell, a death that was ruled suicide.

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Vladimir Putin warns of wider conflict over Ukraine

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Vladimir Putin warns of wider conflict over Ukraine

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Vladimir Putin has said that western support for Ukraine risks triggering a global war, in his most explicit threat to use nuclear weapons since he ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

In his state of the nation speech on Thursday, the Russian president said claims that his country might attack Europe were “nonsense”, but warned that Russia could strike back against western countries in response.

Putin said in the address to the country’s political elite that western support for Ukraine “really risks a conflict using nuclear weapons, which means the destruction of all of civilisation”.

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Referring to French President Emmanuel Macron’s refusal to rule out sending western troops to Ukraine this week, Putin said Russia remembered “the fate of those who once sent their contingents to our country. Now the consequences for possible interveners will be much more tragic”.

“We also have weapons that can strike targets on their territory,” Putin added. He said western supplies of advanced weaponry and the prospect of a Nato troop deployment risked nuclear conflict.

Putin added: “They think this is some kind of game. They are blinded by their own superiority complex.”

The Kremlin had billed Putin’s speech as a road map for the next six years of his rule ahead of Russia’s presidential elections next month, in which he faces no credible challengers after 24 years in power, having quashed most opposition and outlawed dissent.

Pro-Kremlin cinema owners across the country held free screenings of the speech, which began at midday in Moscow. But even as Putin devoted the bulk of it to social support programmes for mothers and attempts to cut dependence on imported technology, the speech revealed how far the war in Ukraine and his strategic rivalry with the west has consumed his attention.

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“Instead of Russia, they need some dependent, declining, dying space where they can do whatever they want,” Putin said of the west.

Putin confirmed Russia would beef up troop deployments on its border with Nato countries to “neutralise threats” created by Sweden and Finland joining the alliance following his invasion of Ukraine.

Though Putin said Russia was prepared to hold talks with the US on arms control, which has essentially collapsed since the full-scale invasion, he made it clear Russia was also interested in ramping up its ability to strike western countries.

He boasted that the country’s nuclear forces were fully ready for use, and added that work would soon conclude on new weapons systems that he claims are essentially impossible to shoot down.

“We are dealing with a state whose ruling circles are taking openly hostile actions against us. They are planning in all seriousness to discuss strategic stability with us while simultaneously, as they say themselves, trying to inflict a strategic defeat on us on the battlefield,” Putin said.

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Denying US claims that Russia plans to deploy a nuclear weapon in space, Putin accused the west of trying to “drag us into an arms race, repeating the trick they played with the Soviet Union in the 1980s,” when the USSR overspent on its military, hastening its collapse in 1991.

He said Russia would work to “create the outlines for equal and inseparable security in Eurasia,” adding that “without a sovereign, strong Russia, no stable world order is possible”.

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Crowded field of potential McConnell successors emerges in Senate

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Crowded field of potential McConnell successors emerges in Senate

Several potential successors are being eyed to fill outgoing Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s role as the party faces growing division between more mainstream Republicans and a faction of hardline conservative members.

Among those who are being floated as a potential replacement for the leadership position are senators John Cornyn, R-Texas; John Thune, R-N.D.; John Barrasso, R-Wyo.; Rick Scott R-Fla.; Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; and Steve Daines, R-Mont. 

McConnell, who turned 82 last week, announced in a floor speech Wednesday he will step down from leadership in November. The Kentucky Republican is the Senate’s longest-serving party leader in history.

Speculation about Thune, Barrasso or Daines taking over as leader stems from their current roles in GOP leadership. They serve as Republican whip, Senate Republican Conference chairman and National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, respectively. 

MITCH MCCONNELL STEPPING DOWN AS REPUBLICAN LEADER

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There are several potential successors for Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. (Getty Images)

“Chairman Daines is laser-focused on taking back the Senate majority,” NRSC communications director Mike Berg told Fox News Digital.

One source familiar with Senate Republican conference discussions shared that the “three Johns” — Thune, Cornyn and Barrasso — are not of the same political stripe. Barrasso is considered the most conservative out of the three, the source said. Barrasso is also believed to be a more palatable option for the various factions of Republicans in the Senate who don’t always see eye to eye. He notably endorsed former President Trump early last month.

SEN. COTTON PROBES DOD HOW US AIRMAN WHO LIT HIMSELF ON FIRE WAS ‘ALLOWED TO SERVE ON ACTIVE DUTY’

“What I’m focused on is the election,” Barrasso told reporters shortly after McConnell’s announcement.

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As for decisions regarding leadership, he said, “I’m going to talk to members of the conference, hear what they have to say, listen to them in terms of what direction that they want to take with us.”

Both Cornyn and Thune also endorsed Trump after Barrasso. Thune had initially endorsed fellow Sen. Tim Scott R-S.C., who ultimately dropped out and endorsed Trump. 

Sen. Rick Scott was more pointed in his statement following McConnell’s surprise announcement, saying in a statement, “I have been very clear and have long believed that we need new leadership in the Senate that represents our voters and the issues we were sent here to fight for.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has long been an opponent of Russian geopolitical machinations.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has long been an opponent of Russian geopolitical machinations. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

When Scott challenged McConnell for the position, Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., told reporters McConnell received 37 votes from conference members, while Scott received 10. One Republican voted “present.” Some of those who reportedly voted against McConnell were senators Josh Hawley, R-Mo; Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Braun; Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. 

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who supported Scott in 2022, would welcome Scott’s leadership if he were to take over, a staffer in Lee’s office told Fox News Digital.

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MCCONNELL SAYS SENATE TRIAL FOR MAYORKAS IMPEACHMENT IS THE ‘BEST WAY FORWARD’

The source also shared that Cotton was being mentioned as a potential contender for the position. Cotton’s office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. 

Cornyn, who does not hold a leadership position in the GOP and is poised to launch a potential bid for leader, said in a statement Wednesday that “today is about Mitch McConnell.”

“But I’ve made no secret about my intentions,” he added.

Cornyn on his timeline: “Not today.”

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Cornyn also endorsed former President Trump to be the Republican presidential nominee, and some lawmakers have begun looking to the likely GOP candidate for guidance about who should replace McConnell.

Donald Trump wearing a red make america great again hat

A new article from The Atlantic warned that House Democrats may vote against certifying former President Trump’s election if the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t rule whether he is eligible for office beforehand. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., told reporters Wednesday the next person “absolutely” needs to have a more positive relationship with Trump, adding, “He’s going to be the next president, we have to work together.”

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., agreed. 

“It’s so important that the next leader have a very positive relationship with the president,” Marshall told Fox News Digital in an interview Wednesday. “I think that this next leader needs to have a little bit more, maybe a lot more of a populist view.”

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Marshall, who positioned himself alongside conservative hardliners who were critical of McConnell and voted against the bipartisan border deal in the national security supplemental package this month, added that the names being floated for leadership have been “interviewing for the job since I got here.”

“I watch how they vote. I watch what their priorities are. I’ve been watching their volume on what issues they’re championing,” he said. “All the names … have great qualities. They would do a fine job. But I’ve not even started a process of weeding them out. And I tell you, it’ll be one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made.”

Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report. 

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