Archive for March 4th, 2010

Cop chopper touches down

| 04/03/2010 | 44 Comments

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman headline news, Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, police helicopter(CNS): After almost three years and a considerable amount of controversy, the police helicopter has finally landed in the Cayman Islands. The airborne crime fighting machine touched down at Owen Roberts International this afternoon around 3:30 to the delight of the police commissioner, who says the helicopter is here to make a difference. Although there are a few more hurdles for the RCIPS to mount before the EC135 helicopter can join the fight against crime, at least it is now on Cayman soil. The helicopter came with its own temporary pilot who will take the controls until CTC sorts out the pilot and maintenance contract.

As the helicopter made its first appearance in Cayman on Thursday 4 March, after a two-day 1500 mile flight from Louisiana, Commissioner of Police David Baines told the media that it would be a few weeks before the machine was working to help police in the crucial fight against drugs and firearms smuggling, as well as search and rescue. He explained that in addition to sorting out the long term piloting and maintenance contracts, the newly formed RCIPS Air Operations Unit would be training and going through the process of meeting all of the requirements of the CAA to gain its air operations certificate.

“We will be pushing the envelope on the flying with craft and operating it in extreme circumstances. The pilots will be flying at lower levels and in difficult conditions so we need to make sure that the training is complete before the craft can be operational,” Baines explained, adding that the training would begin right away.

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman headline news, Royal Cayman Islands Police Service“There is still a bit of work to be done before the helicopter becomes fully operational. However, it’s important to everyone involved that we ensure that we meet the very high standards of training and aircraft effectiveness required to allow us to obtain the relevant certification.”

The commissioner acknowledged that the arrival had been a long time in coming but the community would soon appreciate how useful the helicopter will be.

“This dedicated resource will allow us to cover vast areas of land and sea very quickly and it will be invaluable when it comes to assisting in searches, operations and tracking offenders. This new crime fighting tool will soon become a common sight in the air above Cayman and will have a tremendous impact on the operational capacity of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service,” Baines stated.

The EC135 helicopter can, contrary to earlier concerns, fly to all three islands and is fitted with forward looking infra red cameras and broadcast quality daylight cameras, all with recording facility for evidence. It has aviation police radios for use into the Cayman Islands public radio system, a ‘Nightsun’ light capable of lighting up the area of a football field, and the ‘Skyshout’ public address system, which is capable of alerting the public on the ground, whether it is on the lookout for a missing person, or offender, or other information in a critical incident. It is fitted with a video downlink system that allows the camera images to be relayed to other officers or commanders on the ground, giving the benefit of real time images to those on the ground.

Baines said that while there were no pop-out floats on the aircraft it had two engines which offered an extra safety feature, and although there was no winch, during search and rescue the helicopter would act as the eyes to direct the Marine Unit to pick up those who are lost at sea.

Cayman Islands News, Grand Cayman headline news, Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, police helicopterSteve Fitzgerald, RCIPS Air Operations Manager, has been working in the background for some months with the helicopter in Louisiana and with the RCIPS on the Islands. “Whilst there remains a lot to do from our side to bring the operation live, I am extremely pleased to see the helicopter finally delivered onto the Cayman Islands. All our staff are keen to start training and delivering results.”

Baines explained that until the CTC finalises the contracts for piloting and maintenance, the RCIPS had temporarily contracted the services of a pilot from a police helicopter speciality agency in the UK.  

Baines confirmed that the financial costs for operating the helicopter had all been covered in the police budget for this year and he was confident the government appreciated the importance of the aircraft and would ensure the helicopter remained properly funded.

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Security Council members sworn to secrecy

| 04/03/2010 | 14 Comments

(CNS): Having now sworn oaths of non-disclosure, those sitting on the country’s new National Security Council (NSC) will not be allowed to reveal anything about their discussions. Created under the Cayman Islands Constitution 2009, the body is meant to be a forum where crime and security matters can be discussed with input from civil society. However, while the public is invited to make suggestions to the members, there will be no details revealed of what is discussed and FOI requests about its work will be exempted.

At the inaugural meeting on Wednesday, 3 March, Governor Duncan Taylor, who is the chairman, said the council discussed a range of issues but focused on the “priority concern”, the current high rate of crime and what can be done to combat it. Members also took formal declarations of non-disclosure or oaths of secrecy.

“This is not a decision-making body; it is a discussion group which will provide advice, which will in turn be considered by policy-makers,” Duncan Taylor said. “The NSC has a very key role to play and it is an important institution,” he continued. “I am conscious that we meet at a time of heightened concern about security matters.”

He said the spirit of inclusion is a great constitutional innovation and is one of the distinctive features of this new council. However, although the public can offer ideas for discussion to the representatives, they will not necessarily get to hear any information about what the council is doing or discussing.

According to officials, the NSC will examine issues at a strategic level and make recommendations to the governor, which will be submitted to Cabinet and RCIPS for consideration and implementation.

Council members will consider possible external and internal threats over the medium and long term, including natural disasters. Several agencies will be involved in security considerations, especially the uniformed services.

 “There is urgency to move forward, and [I] hope to soon work on the national security strategy and on a national crime prevention strategy,” the governor said, adding that community participation is essential to the group’s success.

“There’s a role for everybody … We want people to feel they can come to any of us [to] give us ideas, thoughts and information which we can use. National security is not simply a matter for the RCIPS; everyone in society has to contribute in some way, such as providing suggestions or policy ideas,” Taylor stated.

Council members are Premier McKeeva Bush, Deputy Governor Donovan Ebanks, Leader of the Opposition Kurt Tibbetts, Attorney General Sam Bulgin, Police Commissioner David Baines, cabinet ministers Juliana O’Connor-Connolly and Mark Scotland. Representing civil society are businesspersons Brigitte Kirkconnell-Shaughness and Dan Scott, while Orrett Connor will serve as the NSC Secretary.

He said confidentiality would be ensured by the members’ oaths of non-disclosure.  “Further, under FOI laws, NSC considerations and proceedings are exempted from access,” the governor confirmed.

The NSC was mandated in the 2009 Constitution to provide advice to the governor on internal security matters. It will not focus on operational or staffing aspects of national security services. These remain the remit of the governor.

The NSC allows elected representatives and lay persons to contribute to policy issues concerning national security.  This was previously the governor’s exclusive function,, and although the police commissioner will continue to report to the governor, he will also periodically update the NSC and the premier on matters relating to internal security and criminal activity.

The governor must act according to the advice he receives from the NSC unless he believes it would adversely affect Her Majesty’s interests.  In such cases, he will also report this reaction tothe NSC. However, there will be no sure way for the public to know if the governor has or has not taken the members’ advice.

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Mother begs for her daughter to come home

| 04/03/2010 | 34 Comments

(CNS): A mother has made a heartfelt plea to her missing daughter to come back home. It is almost one month since the family last saw 15-year-old Tamara Smith (left). The teenager left her home on 7 February taking some of her belongings with her and she has not made any contact with her parents since. While there have been several reported sightings of Tamara all over Grand Cayman, her mother Jann says she just wants her to come home. Speaking to New 27, Tamara’s mother pleads with her to come back to the family, who are missing her desperately.  Tamara is 5’ 6” and weighs 165 pounds.  She has a medium brown complexion and relaxed shoulder length hair.

Tamara went missing once before, but her mother said she returned home within a week.  If you have any information on Tamara’s whereabouts, you are asked to call your local police station.

 

See News 27 video

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You cannot be serious!

| 04/03/2010 | 33 Comments

Avert your eyes, children. Turn away, Grandma. These are not exactly glorious days for politics in the Cayman Islands. During challenging times, a nation’s leaders either rise or shrink. Many of ours, it now seems clear, have decided to become tiny, very tiny.

For the wise Caymanians who spent the last couple of weeks ignoring local news, I offer this review of lowlights.

In recent days, some of our MLAs, sober so far as one could tell, actually called for restrictions on private gun ownership to be eased. Yes, that makes perfect sense. Let’s react to a spike in violent crimes by making guns more plentiful. What could possibly go wrong? Yeah, let’s save our criminals the trouble of all that sneaking around to import illegal guns. Just let them steal legal guns from their neighbors. Why should our economy keep losing money to the Jamaican gun smuggling industry anyway? Think of it as a “shop Cayman” initiative.

Some of our MLAs have decided that the green iguana crisis demands immediate action. Refusing to be distracted by the hordes of illiterate children in our midst, growing landfill problems, inadequate infrastructure, and the government’s financial crisis, these leaders have applied laser focus to the lizard issue and will not rest until every green iguana isdead. In fairness, these MLAs are not so much anti-green as pro-blue.

If you are not yet laughing or crying, try this one: Just days ago, an MLA confidently announced in public that the end of the world is near and that we should all prepare for it immediately. Fortunately, no one took him seriously. Everyone is still showing up for work and sending their children to school. But wait, even if no one else does, maybe our politicians really do believe there is no future. Yes, that would explain many of their decisions.

Finally,a hero rose in the North. A straight-shooting man of the people stared down the pesky concept of rules. Defiantly, he struck a blow for vehicular anarchy and lazy people everywhere. Standing tall in the Legislative Assembly, he declared war on clamping and fining for illegal parking. Who among us could resist the powerful case he presented against organized parking lots and compassion for the handicapped? Is it not the right of all true-born Caymanians to park where they please? Handicapped spaces, be damned. Curse every “No Parking” sign that stands between a voter and a sweet spot. Never wilting under the searing heat of reason, logic and law, this politician made it clear that all those who wish to ignore inconvenient rules will never be alone, at least not while he’s in the Legislative Assembly.

You cannot be serious! This is really happening? Now! At this point in our history, these are the things viewed as priorities by our leaders? Green Iguanas and parking! No, really, I’m having a difficult time with this. Do you mean to tell me that when I return home from a shopping trip and have to pay duty on the silk boxers, furry handcuffs, and alligator clips that I purchased in Miami, part of that money goes to pay the salary of these people? I want my money back.

Our government is sinking financially. People are being attacked in the streets by machete-wielding maniacs. Our tourism industry has degraded to daily visits by cattle barges. And some of our leaders are busy working on getting more guns into more hands, plotting national iguana massacres, and defending illegal parking? Can this be real? Is there some sane explanation behind it all? Could it be an elaborate hoax to test us? Maybe they just want to see if anyone is really paying attention to what they say in the Legislative Assembly so they announced all this absurd stuff to gauge our reaction. Yeah, that makes more sense. I want to believe that. Don’t you?

Hey, come to think of it, maybe that MLA who said the world is about to end is on to something. Yeah, I’m not going to make fun of him anymore. Based on what is coming out of the Legislative Assembly these days, he just might know something we don’t.

 

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Research centre offers crime scene diving

| 04/03/2010 | 0 Comments

(CNS): The Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) will be hosting Cayman’s first underwater crime scene investigation (CSI) training course later this month. The three day course at the Little Cayman Research Centre forms part of its Dive with a Researcher (DWAR) Programme. The lead diver and instructor will be marine forensic biologist, Dr Hector Cruz-Lopez.  Dr Cruz-Lopez is a professor of Forensic Science at the Palm Beach State College Criminal Justice Institute and serves on the National Forensic Science Initiative at West Virginia University.

CSI is an ever-growing science that has become quite well documented in both the press and the television CSI series. The use of science to prove the facts, especially in the arena of the law, or, more importantly, in the prosecution of the unlawful, has become quite popular. Forensic science and pathology have been developed since the 1700s, gaining a technological boost from the 1960s onwards. However, the old forensic science methodology is currently undergoing a transformation with the introduction of underwater CSI.

44% of the coral cover on the world’s reefs has been lost to date, and two thirds of the Caribbean’s reefs remain at risk (World Resources Institute 2004). Unfortunately, some people are still slow to realise the potential impact their behaviour can have on our reefs, often resulting in negligent and/or illegal activity.  As a result, underwater CSI is being used to help to identify and prosecute those who continue to threaten the existence of our reefs and marine ecosystems.

Underwater CSI is a set of protocols and techniques for investigating underwater crime scenes; as such, it can be quite useful in determining short-term violations that have had negative impacts on reefs. The results of these investigations can be documented, recorded and analysed in a systematic fashion using tool kits developed to support these types of investigations.

The CCMI said similar techniques are now being used worldwide by marine enforcement officers, environment assessment agencies, coral reef researchers, litigators and natural resource managers.  “‘The enforcement of laws and regulations designed to protect coral reefs and other marine habitats deserve specialized means to investigate and document violations. Underwater forensics provides such a tool, as well as an opportunity to play CSI without having to deal with hardcore criminals or messy crime scenes,” added Dr Cruz-Lopez.

Participants will play a legitimate part in conducting an actual underwater crime scene investigation, but you will also learn how to analyse the data and construct a proper defence, using forensic techniques that you will learn in the programme.

To find out more about CCMI’s DWAR Programme visit www.reefresearch.org. For enrolment call 948-1094 or send inquiries to ccmiapplications@reefresearch.org.  Deadline for enrolment is March 19, 2010.

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NGO offers help with bats

| 04/03/2010 | 0 Comments

(CNS): The Cayman Islands is fortunate enough to have a diverse and interesting bat population. Of the nine species, the Grand Cayman Brown Bat is considered to be an endemic (locally unique) subspecies. Bats are the islands only native mammals, and even though they are of vital importance to a balanced ecology performing many crucial functions, they are not protected in any way. As a result, the National Trust does its best to protect the flying animals and is offering to help home owners safely remove bats from their roofs.

The national trust says that misinformation still abounds about bats, and although some have little mousy tails and most are small and brown, they are actually more closely related to monkeys than to mice. Bats are mammals in the family Chiroptera, which means "hand-wing". Their single pups are slow to mature and demand much maternal care and attention. Interestingly, an adult bat can live up to 30 years of age. There are over 1,200 species of bats world-wide and they are as different from each other as lions are from house cats.

Bats in the Cayman Islands carry no diseases and rabies is not found here. They are not interested in tangling in your hair and they are not vampires. In fact, there are no vampire bats in the Cayman Islands. While some Caribbean islands do have a bat known as a "vampire", this tiny creature is mainly a pest to cattle ranchers.

“We understand that some people are afraid of bats and we want to help calm their fears.” stated Lois Blumenthal, coordinator of the Caribbean Bat Conservation Project for Bat Conservation International and Director of the Bat Conservation Program for the National Trust. “Bats are not dangerous and do not pose a health threat, but they should still be removed from roof spaces to avoid odour problems.”

To find out if you have bats living in your building, stand outside just after sunset, but while the sky is still light, and watch. It is important that if you do see bats flying out, not to plug the hole because this may trap bats inside, forcing them into the living areas. Bats can be sealed out by using simple methods.

Roof-dwelling bats are helpful to humans in many ways, including the control of mosquitoes, beetles, moths and many crop and garden pests. Bats living in roof spaces are always insect-eating species, fruit bats have never been found roosting in roofs and do not use bat houses.

“With the Cooperation of Caribbean Utilities Co Ltd (CUC), Ron Moser’s Machine Shop and extensive volunteer labour, there are now over 80 bat houses distributed in all the districts of Grand Cayman,”  said Blumenthal. “These bat houses provide alternative habitat to help keep bats from moving into roof spaces. The bats houses are a great success but they work in conjunction with proper exclusion techniques.”

Removing bats effectively is not expensive but it must be done before mid-May when baby bats are born.  Anyone planning to remove bats from the roof should do so within the next few months, or postpone plans until November.

 For help in removing bats permanently, safely and humanely, and for recommendations for qualified service providers contact the Wildlife Hotline at 917-BIRD (2473), the National Trust office at 749-1121 or email info@caymanwildlife.org.

For more information or to download a free PowerPoint slide show about Cayman Islands Bats, visit www.caymanwildlife.org  or  www.nationaltrust.org.ky.

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HSBC applauds own performance after tough year

| 04/03/2010 | 20 Comments

(CNS): Following the announcement of the bank’s annual results on Monday, which revealed an underlying pre-tax profit of US$13.3 billion, the Cayman Islands CEO of HSBC, Gonzalo Jalles, said the results highlight the strength, diversity, and global reach of the group. After another challenging year for the economy and financial sector, the bank said it had delivered a resilient performance for 2009, demonstrating the importance of its diversified business model. The bank said it was ahead of 2008 after excluding last year’s goodwill impairment and net underlying revenues were also strong, growing 8% to US$72.4 billion.

“The performance of the Cayman operations also surpassed expectations and we are grateful for the many customers who chose HSBC and took advantage of the products and services being offered,” Jalles said. “I am also very pleased with the performance of the HSBC team over the past year as the results could not have been achieved without their collective efforts.”

He said that, as a result of the performance, HSBC Cayman was well placed to launch Phase 2 of its expansion plans in 2010. ”For this year, we intend to begin offering additional retail products and services that will no doubt continue to provide value to new and existing customers,” he added.

According to Group CEO, Michael Geoghegan, while the bank was not immune to the downturn, the performance demonstrated that HSBC was one of the world’s strongest and most profitable banks. “Our financial strength has allowed us to support our customers through difficult times. The results were ahead of our expectations at the outset of the year, and they underscore HSBC’s strength throughout the most difficult stages of the economic cycle. In particular, our improved underlying performance highlights the strength of our diversified business model,” he added.

The improvements were supported by a stronger result in Global Banking and Markets, which delivered exceptional revenues, stronger Balance Sheet Management performance, and a significant decline in write-downs, the bank said in its release announcing the results.

HSBC also benefited from a substantial fall in loan impairment charges in US consumer finance offset by higher loan impairments elsewhere.

“During 2009 HSBC stuck to its fundamentals and, thanks to this clear focus and our balanced business model, we ended the year as we began: one of the world’s strongest and most profitable independent banks,” Geoghegan said.

Thebank also stated that it continued to take steps to enhance its capital strength and liquidity in 2009. The business generated capital all four quarters, and the successful completion of the rights issue in April 2009 also added US$17.8 billion to shareholders’ equity.

Group Chairman Stephen Green said that throughout the crisis, HSBC had remained profitable, financially strong and independently owned by our shareholders. “The successful completion of our rights issue helped to set the tenor for market recovery, and demonstrated the strong confidence which our shareholders have in our future,” he noted.

Regardless of the speed and nature of the recovery, HSBC said it is well positioned as the world’s top banking brand, with strong capital reserves and liquidity, a broad and well-balanced business model and a proven strategy focused on emerging markets.

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Bahamiam firm to take major stake in Sagicor

| 04/03/2010 | 5 Comments

(CNS): Three quarters of the Cayman-based insurer Sagicor General Insurance will be acquired by Bahamas First Holdings before the end of this month, according to media reports. The remaining quarter will stay in the hands of the Cayman Islands Government. The acquisition of a 75.24 percent stake in Sagicor is now awaiting approval from both CIMA and its Bahamian counterpart before the deal is finalized. Sagicor gained its government partner in 2005 when it purchased a 51% share in Cayman General, which government acquired as a result of a deal in the wake of Hurricane Ivan.

Patrick Ward, Bahamas First Holdings president and chief executive, told Tribune Business that the acquisition of the 75% stake would help to diversify the Bahamian general insurer’s revenue base and risk concentration. The "target date" for closing the transaction was end-March before close of the first quarter dependent on the regulators in both Cayman and the Bahamas.

"We expect this acquisition to be accretive to group earnings from day one," Ward told Tribune Business. While Bahamas First and Sagicor was still finalising figures related to the acquisition, such as the total level of assets involved, he said Sagicor Cayman had in excess of $50 million gross written premiums in 2009.

"We’ve always been looking for the right opportunity to diversify our premium or revenue base, and Cayman has a number of attractive features that signify that it is the right opportunity for us," Ward explained. "It’s got a stable economy, the currency risk factor is not a major one, because the Cayman dollar is traded at a higher level than the US dollar, and the operating environment is very similar to what we have in the Bahamas.

Bahamas First’s minority partner in Sagicor General, with just under a 25 per cent stake, will be the Cayman Islands’ government. "I think there’s something to be said for diversifying your revenue base when operating in a catastrophe zone, and this is something AM Best has called for from a number of companies in the region, including Bahamas First," added Ward.

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Pension firm predicts serious shortfalls

| 04/03/2010 | 32 Comments

(CNS): It comes as no surprise that pension administrators have voiced their objections to the government’s pension holiday, which will take effect as soon as the new bill is gazetted. However, one of the biggest local providers has asked its experts to predict what the likely impact of a two year break in contributions would be to the money available to a contributor once they retire. Silver Thatch asked its Canadian actuarial consultants to offer a monetary value and they have predicted that a member currently aged 25 with a salary of $50,000 per annum with 40 years left to contribute could lose almost $200,000.

The consultant noted that, depending on performance and the increase in salaries over a working career, if the contribution remained at 10% the average account balance would be down $193,000 if the member takes a two year break. The impact on someone earning the same salary at 35 years old would be $100,000 and around $38,000 for some one aged 45 when they took the break.

However, with pension funds severely impacted by the world economic crisis in recent months it remains to be seen how real such a result would be as many people have already seen their funds fall dramatically, even when their contributions are being paid in.

The bill to amend the Pension Law was passed in the Legislative Assembly on Monday and it has removed the mandatory obligation of employers and employees to make pension contributions for 12 months for Caymanians and 24 months for work permit holders.

The move is designed to give the working population extra cash at a difficult economic time and is entirely voluntary, with employers having to prove their employees have volunteered to freeze their pensions. With more than 600 employers across the island delinquent on payments to pension funds, coupled with the economic downturn, many workers in Cayman are already facing shortfalls in their pension funds, even though they have had the five percent deducted from their earnings.

The minister for labour, Rolston Anglin, who brought the bill to the Legislative Assembly, said these employers would need to pay back their employees’ contributions before they could partake in the holiday, which would give them time to make up the money that is missing from their workers accounts.

The minister explained that the goal was to offer relief to people who were suffering economic hardship, and with no direct tax base to manipulate, the pension contributions offered a way to help.

“What we have struggled with is, given the set of circumstances before us, how can we have a meaningful and direct impact on business and people offering the much needed relief,” Anglin said on Monday. “We need to find a way to also get the money owed to employees back into their funds.”

Anglin explained that in some cases employers owe so much into pension accounts that, were they forced to pay back, they would go bankrupt, which would mean employees would never see the money owed to them.

 

Silver Thatch’s Board of Trustees Chairman Carlyle McLaughlin said the calculations made by the actuary were an eye opener about the risk of failing to contribute. “Though there might be an immediate, short-term gratification during the interim, in the long run, inarguably – you stand to lose by not investing.”

McLaughlin said that without understanding the long-term ramifications and seeing the broader picture people will be inclined to cut back on their pension contributions because of the current economic climate, but this can really make a difference to the pension income received at retirement. “We just want to ensure the local community is provided with the insight to appreciate the gravity of this decision,” he added.

He said it was of paramount importance members have their finger on the pulse when it comes to the facts of making this decision. It is our understanding that the only entities which can benefit from the holiday are those who are current with their contributions. Consequently, workers should ensure this is the case before making such a decision,” the chair added.

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Burglar takes a cleaner approach to stolen goods.

| 04/03/2010 | 15 Comments

(CNS): Police on Cayman Brac are on the look out for some rather unusual stolen goods following a burglary from an unoccupied house on the island last week. Officers stated that they believe that the burglary occurred at about 11.00 pm on the night of Monday, 22 February at an unoccupied residence in Watering Place when the burglar helped himself to laundry appliances. Although electricalgoods are often targeted by criminals they are usually considerably more portable. Police say this thief took a Whirlpool washer and separate drier from the property and are asking people to keep their eye out for the goods.

 “I would ask anyone who has any information about this burglary, or who has been offered property answering this description in suspicious circumstances to contact me,” said PC Nation.  “I would also be keen to hear from anyone who may have seen a vehicle at this location  at, or around, the time of the incident.”

Anyone with information should call Cayman Brac police station on 948-0331 or Crime Stoppers 800-8477 (TIPS).

 

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