Archive for February, 2011

Cops catch latest robbers

| 28/02/2011 | 35 Comments

(CNS): Police have arrested three men following an armed robbery which took place at the Tortuga store in West Bay this afternoon (Monday 28 February) after stopping what was believed to be the getaway on Easterly Tibbetts Highway. Officers said the robbery took place at about 2.30pm when two men armed with what appeared to be a firearm entered the Tortuga shop next to the Cracked Conch Restaurant on North West Point Road. The men threatened staff, though no shots were fired and no one was hurt, before the men fled the scene with a small sum of cash. The suspects ran off towards the Turtle Farm and one was seen entering a green Hyundai motor car. (Photos Dennie WarrenJr)

Police attended the scene and a short time later officers stopped the suspect vehicle close to Camana Bay, where the driver of the car was arrested on suspicion of robbery.

Following a subsequent police operation in the West Bay area two other men were arrested in connection with the incident, both of whom were also arrested on suspicion of robbery. Police said that all three men currently remain in police custody while enquiries are ongoing.

This is the 14th armed robbery of 2011 on Grand Cayman and despite several arrests recently by the police there seems to be little let up in the increasing frequency of the incidents, which are averaging almost two per week or one robbery every 4.2 days.

It is not clear how many customers if any were in the store when the robbery took place but there were four cruise ships docked in George Town Monday. The store is situated between the Turtle Farm, the Cayman Car Museum, one of the dolphinariums as well as the Cracked Conch restaurant and Macabuca Tiki bar, all of which are popular tourist locations.
 

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Gmail outage leaves 150,000 users without e-mail

| 28/02/2011 | 0 Comments

(Computer World): About 150,000 of Google’s Gmail users woke up Sunday morning to missing e-mails, contacts and chat histories. Google engineers noted on the Apps Status Dashboard Sunday night that e-mail services were restored to "some" users and that they expected to fix the problem for everyone in the "near future." They were not, however, specific as to how many users had their Gmail services restored and how soon everyone else should expect to get their services back. Users complained that they were missing key parts of their Gmail service, which inlcudes e-mail, chats, contacts, folders and settings and some reported that accounts seemed to have been reset so they appeared to be brand new.

Google first acknowledged the problem on its Apps Status Dashboard Sunday at 3:09 p.m. EST. Several hours later, Google engineers reported that the issue was affecting less than 0.08% of its Gmail users.


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America’s last WWI veteran dies aged 110

| 28/02/2011 | 0 Comments

(BBC): America’s last surviving veteran of World War I, Frank Buckles, has died aged 110. Buckles, who joined the US army in 1917, at the age of 16, lying about his age to get enlisted, died of natural causes at his home near Charles Town, West Virginia, on Sunday. He was one of more than 4.7m Americans who signed up to fight in the Great War between 1917-18. He served in England and France, as a driver and a warehouse clerk. Buckles was turned down by the marines and the navy for being too young to serve, but managed to convince an army recruiter he was 21. He sailed to Britain in December 1917 on board the ship which five years earlier had picked up survivors of the Titanic.

"During my stay in England, I drove a motorcycle sidecar, then Ford ambulances and cars. Perseverance paid off and I got assigned to follow an officer who had been left behind from his unit and I got to France," he said.

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Libya faces expulsion from UN human rights council

| 28/02/2011 | 2 Comments

(FT.Com): Libya looks likely to become the first country to be expelled from the UN Human Rights Council as leading powers continue to put pressure on Muammer Gaddafi and his allies to give up their fight against opposition forces in Tripoli. Foreign ministers from the US, Russia, the UK, Germany and other states convened on Monday for a council session in Geneva, where they condemned the violence that Col Gaddafi has unleashed on his opponents in recent days. The meeting came as momentum built towards the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. Several nations, including the UK and the US said discussions and preparations for imposing one were underway but that no decision had been taken.

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Species spotters battle it out to become first to 10,000

| 28/02/2011 | 0 Comments

(Telegraph): Britain’s naturalists are engaged in a race to see who will become the first to “spot” 10,000 species in the wild. It is a race which can only have one winner: who will be the first man to “spot” 10,000 of Britain’s species of wildlife? In the green corner is Jonty Denton, who has “spotted” 9,947 wild species – including 2,573 beetles, two of which had never before been seen in Britain. And in the other green corner is David Gibbs, who is rapidly catching up with 9,444 species, after recent fieldtrips added dozens of mosses and liverworts to his total. The pair are currently locked in battle to see who will be the first to break through the 10,000 mark. Everywhere either goes, he takes logbooks, test tubes and a magnifying glass.

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Channel could spell disaster

| 28/02/2011 | 111 Comments

(CNS): Government’s proposal to dredge a channel in the North Sound could spell both economic as well as environmental disaster for Cayman. A campaign started by a group of local captains against the project has already widened to attract people throughout the community who oppose the project as a result of concerns that not only could Stingray City be lost but the whole of Grand Cayman could be greatly exposed when a hurricane hits the islands. The captains say the premier has not been open about how deep and wide the channel needs to be to accommodate mega yachts and has downplayed the size of the planned project.

Captain Bryan Ebanks, who is spearheading the community campaign “Save Cayman” against the channel, said everyone needs to understand this is not just an issue that will impact the local captains that use the North Sound for tours but the whole community. The potential loss of Stingray City alone, he said, would have a knock-on economic impact on the wider economy that could be extremely significant and the environmental impact could be truly disastrous.

“In the event that we have another hurricane resembling Ivan, this opening in the reef would allow the ocean to rush unabated down this trench onto the North Sound shores of West Bay and onto the North Sound shores of the Seven Mile Beach,” the captain said. Experts believe that the great force of the sea would stop at the North Sound shores of George Town, and with nowhere to go it would slam into the shores of George Town Barcadere, creating a tsunami.

“This would likely flood all of George Town, most of South Sound on the coastline all the way up to Newlands. If this scenario is correct, this would be a national disaster on a scale that this island would probably not recover from,” Ebanks added.

The premier told the Legislative Assembly last week that he would be pressing ahead with the project to construct a channel in the North Sound, having received a proposal from Chinese investors. He said it would not be as big as past proposals but two new islands would be created as part of the project.

The campaigners say that the premier is not being transparent about the details of the size of the channel or the islands. “In order to accommodate a mega yacht it is reasonable to estimate that a 200 foot wide channel that is 50 to 60 feet deep will be required,” Ebanks said, explaining that it would have to at the very least accommodate two mega yachts passing each other.

Professor Dr Harry H Roberts, a Marine Biologist from Louisiana State University, confirmed that there would be implications to the North Sound system if the reef was opened up by dredging a channel and it could be the case that the Stingray City Sand Bar could disappear.

Department of Environment (DOE) Director, Gina Ebanks-Petrie, has stated that the sediment plumes being kicked up by even small boats, are caused by the re-suspension of sediments that were released during past dredging which have since been redistributed by wind and wave activity.

Speaking specifically about the latest proposal she said that the DoE would be recommending  that government undertake an environmental impact assessment but she said so far no one had spoken to the department about the proposals.

Petrie also pointed out that the EIA should examine the economic argument for a mega yacht marina on the north coast and to look at whether government objectives behind the proposal could be met in another way that would not pose such a risk to the environment.

The campaigners say they will be circulating a petition this week and will be writing an official letter to government setting out the main reasons for their objections and what they say are very genuine dangers associated with the project.

“Our national treasure, the Sand Bar, could disappear,” Ebanks added, pointing out that Stingray City remains the islands’ most popular tourist attraction and, as a key driver for the cruise lines, the trickle down effect of losing Stingray City would have a severe economic impact on everyone who depends on tourism for a living.

“Dredging a channel would destroy and disrupt the North Sound as the currents would revolve around the basin, creating sediment which would smooth a large percentage if not all of the coral. It would no longer be a habitat and a spawning area for many of the creatures that replenish the rest of the reefs of the island,” he said.

The captain also queried the benefits of encouraging mega yacht owners to Cayman, as claimed by the premier. He pointed out that the vessels come equipped with everything on board and occupants have no need to buy supplies and only require a small amount of services. “As such their contributions to our economy will be minimal,” the captain warned. “The introduction of mega yachts to the Cayman Islands would provide very few jobs for local Caymanians as most of these vessels are not docked in any one spot for an extended period of time.”

He said the only people likely to gain any significant benefit from the project would be the developers.

“This island is looking for a quick fix solution and we seem to be expecting someone to save us. No community can be built upon this type of false foundation,” Ebanks lamented as he warned of the dangers of allowing short term financial gains to influence important decisions. “This is a national issue that will affect every living Caymanian, resident, current and future tourist. This is an issue that we cannot afford to remain silent about.”

In his recent public comment about the proposed project, Bush has said he will not be stopped by the critics as he believes the channel is necessary and will not cause any significant damage to the environment as he says it has been done elsewhere safely. The premier stated that it would bring enormous benefit and Cayman had to use its assets to turn the economy around.

Capt. Ebanks and the group are asking for volunteers who can help distribute campaign materials and assist with the campaign in general. The goal is to begin collecting signatures and educate as manypeople and start an open community conversation about the wider implications of the government’s project. More details of the campaign are available on Facebook or people can email savecayman@gmail.com.

 

Vote in CNS poll: Are you in favour of dredging a channel in the North Sound to accommodate mega yachts?

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Improving airline business faces oil price threat

| 28/02/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Airline traffic grew strongly in January but the rise in oil prices threatens to weigh heavily on airlines, the Air Transport Association (IATA) warned on Monday. Passenger traffic rose 8.2 percent and freight by 9.1 percent in January against the same month in 2010, with air travel volumes now up 6 percent from their pre-recession peak in early 2008. But "even with good news on traffic 2011 is starting out as a very challenging year for airlines" due to the rise in oil prices, Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s director general and CEO, said in a statement. IATA’s forecast for 2011 made in December anticipates an industry profit of US$9.1 billion or a 1.5% profit margin on US$598B in revenues but that was based on an average annual oil price of US$84 per barrel.

Benchmark Brent crude was trading at US$112.33 a barrel at midday on Monday and for each dollar the price of oil increases, the industry’s costs rise US$1.6 billion. IATA said that it plans to issue a revised 2011 forecast on Wednesday.

 

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Kidnap victim reveals ordeal

| 28/02/2011 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Tyson Tatum revealed how he was beaten, gagged and bound by three men, when he gave evidence last week in the Grand Court trial of two of the four men accused of kidnapping him for a ransom of $500k last year. Tatum said he was lured to an address in North Side on the pretence of repairing wave-runners but on arrival he was set upon by three men who beat him into submission as he struggled to escape. The victim said he fought with the men for more than five minutes before they threatened to kill him and he gave up the fight to save his life. He revealed how the men had kicked him in the head and face, tied his arms and feet, put duct tape over his eyes and mouth and left him lying on bathroom floor for several hours.

The twenty-three-year-old, who works in his family’s construction business, told the court that a man who called himself Robert, whom he identified as the defendant Charles Webster, met him at Driftwood on the morning of the incident, which took place in March 2010.

He followed the man to a house on the beach side between Driftwood and Rum Point, where he was told the wave-runners were. As he stepped inside the property, Tatum said, he was pushed inside and jumped by the two other men as the three of them kicked, choked and punched him until he was subdued by the largest of the abductors, who, he said, was around 300lbs. He identified this man as the defendant Allen Kelly.

The kidnappers took his jewellery as they bound and gagged him and he began to beg for his life. He described how he was dragged to a bathroom, where he lay on the floor for several hours. Although blindfolded with the duct tape, Tatum said he could peer under it slightly, giving him an idea of his surroundings but with the tape over his mouth he could do no more than mumble. Eventually, he said, Kelly came and picked him up from the floor and placed him on a chair. He retied his hands from behind Tatum’s back in front of him and gave him some water.

Tatum described how he lost track of time but believes he was left alone with Kelly for several hours, the first person to offer some indication as to why he had been abducted. Tatum was told that it had something to do with a deal which had gone wrong between his father, his brother-in-law Richard Hurlstone and Hurlstone’s brother, and the kidnapper’s “big boss” was not happy.

“I asked him if they were going to kill me,” Tatum told the court and he said Kelly told him he didn’t know but believed everything would be all right.

Soon after the two other men returned and it was then the ransom calls to Tatum’s mother began. He said that Webster told him what to say and held a knife to his throat as he made the call, holding the phone to the kidnap victim’s head. Tatum said he was instructed to tell his mother he had been abducted and that the kidnappers wanted US$500,000 and that she was not to go the police, otherwise they would kill him. After the call the kidnappers told Tatum that all they had to do now was wait.

Tatum described how, as the evening drew near, he was taken to a bedroom and placed on a bed. He was given some food and the kidnappers came into the room to talk to him. He said that they were smoking ganja together and he did his best to try and find out who the kidnappers were and what was really going on.

He learned that the kidnapping was connected to this deal with the man the kidnappers called "the big boss" who had sent the men to take care of him. Tatum revealed how he pressed for more information but they would not reveal more details. He said they talked about how they would let him go once they had the money but if he ever talked they would take him on a boat and feed him to the sharks. He said the men also threatened to kill his daughter, and while he considered their talk of sharks foolishness, he took the threat against his child seriously.

Tatum described how the kidnappers knew a lot about him and his family and how they told him how they had connections with the local police, so he should not try to involve them. Eventually, he said, the men left him in the room alone, still tied up, and checked on him periodically throughout the night. Sometime early the next morning the kidnappers came in the room and said that hopefully things would go as planned that day.

The kidnappers again forced Tatum to call his mother to find out if she had got the cash and was told what to say as the knife was held to his throat and the phone to his ear. His mother said she was getting the money but had to wait for the bank to find the notes.

After a few more ransom calls with his mother as she continued to try and get the money, Tatum said the men then tied him to a chair in the bathroom before he heard someone leave. Sometime in the afternoon he realized that all three had gone and he was left alone. It was then that he began to try and work his hands free from the ties and managed eventually to pull out one hand and remove his duct tape blindfold. He immediately saw a box of matches on the side which he used to melt the plastic ties and was able to remove the rest of the duct tape before he fled from the house.

Tatum described how he ran along the beach in North Side until he found a house where a family was home who let him use their phone. He called his mother to tell her he had escaped and would be heading back to his house in Newlands. He told the court that the man at the house where he used thephone then gave him a ride to his home, where he hid until the police came.

The trial continues with the crown’s case against Kelly and Webster Monday. Although the crown has been granted an application to try Richard Hurlstone in his absence after he absconded to Honduras while on bail, the prosecutors were unable to try Hurlstone alongside Kelly and Webster, who had requested a judge alone trial, after a ruling by the judge last week.

Although all defendants in the Cayman Islands judicial system have the right to request a judge alone trial, in the case of multiple defendants it must be unanimous. With the prosecution given the right by the court to try Hurlstone in his absence but who was not present to offer an election, Hurlstone’s trial would automatically have to be with a jury.

The defence attorneys for both Webster and Kelly, therefore, made an application to sever as they pointed out that their clients’ right to a judge alone trial was being undermined by the one defendant in the case that had absconded, and that couldn’t be fair. In what is believed to be the first ruling of its kind in the jurisdiction, Justice Harrison agreed with the defence and split the trials.

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US hunt for tax dodgers gathers pace

| 28/02/2011 | 0 Comments

(FT.com): The arrest this month of a prominent Swiss private banker and indictment of four others confirms a new front in Washington’s battle against tax dodgers that the Swiss government hoped would not happen but others recognised as inevitable. Three years after pursuing UBS, the world’s second biggest wealth manager and Switzerland’s biggest bank by assets, the US authorities have turned their attention to Credit Suisse, while still continuing to probe former UBS bankers. The first blow against Credit Suisse appeared to come with the detention of Christos Bagios, head of the bank’s Zurich unit that looks after US clients with declared offshore accounts.

However, well informed people say the 45-year-old Bagios was actually held because of his former UBS job. Before Credit Suisse, Bagios belonged to the now disbanded UBS team whose activities attracted the attention of the US authorities and ultimately spurred criminal and civil proceedings against the bank and a crisis in US-Swiss relations.
 

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Butterfield loses over $200M

| 28/02/2011 | 2 Comments

(CNS): Butterfield Bank lost over $207.6 million in 2010, according to its year end results, which was only slightly less than the loss of $213.4 million the year before. In a release announcing the results, the bank said that on a normalised basis, net income was $14.8 million for 2010 compared to $21 million in 2009. The bank’s 2010 loss was driven primarily by non-recurring losses associated with the strategy to de-risk the balance sheet, bank officials said, including realised losses of $113.8 million on the sale of asset-backed securities in the first quarter, the recording of other-than-temporary impairments of $60.5 million in the first quarter on structured investment vehicles, net provisions of $31.8 million taken primarily in respect of large hospitality-related corporate loans and restructuring costs of $12.4m.

On a normalised basis, revenues from operations, before provisions for credit losses, were down from $332.1 million at year-end 2009 to $321.3 million at year-end 2010. Net interest income before provisions for credit losses was down 4% year on year to $178.9 million, owing to compressed margins in the low interest rate environment and limited loan demand. Non-interest income declined by 1.9%, from $145.2 million in 2009 to $142.4 million, in line with global recessionary declines, the bank stated. Expenses before one-time items declined from $300.5 million in 2009 to $294.8 million in 2010, despite expenditures on technology, asset-liability management and liquidity support.

Olivier Sarkozy, who led the investment in the bank on behalf of The Carlyle Group, said that, while “unfortunate”, the losses realised represented the culmination of the balance sheet restructuring that was necessary to put the bank back on a path of prudent risk management and sustainable growth. “We are pleased with the progress the Bank has made in this regard and happy that the Bank’s results are consistent with, if not slightly better than, our original projections,” he added.

At 31 December 2010, Butterfield had a tangible common equity ratio of 5.8% from 0.9% a year ago, total capital ratio of 21.6% and tier 1 capital ratio of 15.7%. The bank’s net book value per share was $1.09 at 31 December 2010.

Brad Kopp, Butterfield’s President and Chief Executive Officer, said 2010 was a year of “building a strong foundation amongst challenging economics,” starting with the capital raise bringing in new investors and an over-subscribed rights offering the banks good liquidity position allowed it to finalise the process of ridding the balance sheet of problematic assets. “This leaves us with a strong capital base to withstand continued uncertainty in the global economic outlook and to support growth as our economies recover,” he added.

With respect to the bank’s overall asset quality, Kopp said it was important for the bank to reduce exposure on its balance sheet promptly and to re-invest in high quality securities, whilst ensuring appropriate liquidity. “Non-accrual loans at 31 December 2010 amounted to approximately $160 million, down from over $230 million a year ago, and equivalent to 3.9% of our total loan portfolio. Subsequent to year end, we settled a troubled hospitality loan, further reducing our non-accrual loans to 3.75% of total loans, compared to 5.37% a year earlier. We continue to work with our borrowers to find mutually agreeable repayment solutions,” he added.

To date, the Bank said it had taken action to place two hotel properties in Bermuda in receivership, which was deemed the best course of action to protect the value of the assets and safeguard the interests of Butterfield shareholders. The properties continue to operate under management overseen by the receivers, with a view to selling them as going concerns.

During the year, Butterfield undertook restructurings in several of its businesses and jurisdictions, making changes in support of its strategy to focus resources on the core businesses of community banking and wealth management in jurisdictions where the bank has a meaningful market presence.

The bank also said it had made substantial progress on the implementation of its upgraded technology platform and is now well placed to introduce new banking systems in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda in 2011.

“Although the economic circumstances in the markets in which the Bank operates remain somewhat uncertain,” Kopp said, “our strategic focus on community banking and wealth management services, along with the strong capital foundation we have in place, will, I believe, allow us to achieve future growth and sustained profitability.”

Senior Executive VP, Caribbean, Conor O’Dea, said the bank was encouraged by new management appointments including a new Head of Group Asset Management who will be tasked with growing that element of the banks business.

“A stronger asset management function will complement our fiduciary and private banking services,” O’Dea said. “Our franchise in the Cayman Islands remains focused on growth, innovation and enriching our community. We continue to contribute to the success of the financial services industry and offer exceptional customer services in the Cayman Islands,” he added. 

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