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May 5, 2010 at 12:00 PM
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BP blocks one of three leaks in oil well

WASHINGTON, May 5 (UPI) -- BP announced Wednesday it had stopped the flow of oil from one of three leaks on the damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico.

A remotely operated vehicle installed a valve on the end of a broken drill pipe, one of three points from which oil was leaking, BP said in a release.

The stoppage was not expected to affect the overall rate of flow from the well, but was expected to reduce the complexity of dealing with the situation on the ocean floor, the company said in a release.

BP also announced it had made $25 million block grants to each of the states of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida to help mitigate damage from oil reaching shore or threatening environmentally sensitive areas.

"We hope these grants will support the effective deployment of pre-prepared response plans in each state," said Tony Hayward, BP group chief executive.

Meanwhile, a BP executive told U.S. congressional members the oil leak could escalate, possibly spilling up to 60,000 barrels of oil a day.

Pressure on BP from local, state and federal government officials has picked up amid uncertainty about the extent of the leak and when it may be stopped completely, The New York Times reported. An explosion occurred April 20 at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which eventually sank into the gulf. Eleven workers were missing and are presumed dead.

BP Vice President for Gulf of Mexico Production David Rainey told congressional members the company was using a number of untried techniques to stave off the gushing oil, now estimated to be about 5,000 barrels a day. Rainey, along with officials from Transocean and Halliburton, Tuesday said they didn't know the likelihood of oil getting caught up in the gulf's currents and being carried out through the Florida Keys to the Atlantic Ocean, the Times said.

"What we heard today from BP, Halliburton and Transocean were a lot of worst-case scenarios without any best-case solutions," Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., who heads the House energy panel's Energy and Environment Subcommittee.

Members of Congress also were briefed by Cabinet officials on the administration's response to the bill, the White House said.

Separately, a federal investigation into the explosion has been initiated by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service.

Senate and House energy committees will conduct hearings next week at which executives from BP and Transocean Ltd., which operated the rig, Halliburton and oil industry technical experts are expected to attend, aides said.

Hayward, BP's chief executive officer, told Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Tuesday economic damage caused by the spill would exceed $75 million, the current cap on drilling accident liability, the Times said. Nelson, along with Democratic Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both of New Jersey, have introduced legislation that would raise the cap to $10 billion and would ensure the new limit applies to the spill.

Attorneys general from the Gulf states said they have been drafting a letter listing their demands of the oil giant, the Times said.

Shahzad's first court date later this week

NEW YORK, May 5 (UPI) -- The man who has admitted leaving an explosive-packed vehicle in Times Square won't appear in court until at least Thursday, federal attorneys said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York said Faisil Shahzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan, was still being questioned by investigators, CNN reported late Tuesday. A scheduled court appearance Tuesday was postponed because he was talking to investigators, court officials said.

Shahzad, 30, who lives in Bridgeport, Conn., was charged Tuesday in federal court with attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and four other explosive-related charges.

Since his arrest Monday at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Shahzad "has provided useful information to authorities" during questioning, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said during a news conference Tuesday.

Shahzad admitted to driving the Nissan Pathfinder loaded with fireworks, propane tanks, gasoline cans, non-explosive fertilizer and alarm clocks to the heart of New York's theater district Saturday and to receiving bomb-making training in Pakistan, among other things, the criminal complaint indicated.

A federal law enforcement official told CNN the fireworks used in the attempted car bombing were bought in Pennsylvania.

U.S. officials said two security lapses allowed Shahzad to board a flight Monday from New York to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, despite his being on a no-fly list, The New York Times reported.

The article said an FBI team assigned to tail Shahzad lost contact with him before he drove to the airport. In addition, federal officials told the Times Emirates airlines hadn't acted on a message sent Monday to carriers to check the updated no-fly list that included Shahzad, who paid cash for his ticket.

A Homeland Security official said airlines aren't required to report cash transactions, but Emirates said the airline did report Shahzad's purchase, but he was in custody by then.

Ash risk prompts British airport closures

LONDON, May 5 (UPI) -- Airports in parts of Scotland and Ireland were closed Wednesday because of risks posed by volcanic ash, aviation officials said.

The Civilian Aviation Authority warned the situation was fluid and urged people to check with airlines and airports before traveling, the BBC reported.

Ash drifting from an Icelandic volcano last month grounded European air service for six days and more recently temporarily closed airports and air space in Britain.

"The situation remains changeable, so passengers expecting to travel from airports in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the north of England and north Wales should contact their airlines to check whether their flight is operating," the CAA said in a statement.

The CAA said a 60 nautical-mile buffer imposed around high concentrations of ash was near several airports on the British Isles.

Aviation regulators said ongoing seismic activity and northerly winds will push the ash from the Eyjafjallajokull volcano over Britain periodically for several months, The Times of London reported.

European Union transport ministers agreed during an emergency meeting Tuesday to speed up plans to unify European airspace, a move they said should ease future disruption, The Times said.

EU Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas said progress is being made to realign airspace of all 27 member countries into nine areas by June 2012.

2 Ariz. cities to sue over immigration law

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz., May 5 (UPI) -- City councils in Flagstaff and Tucson voted to take legal action against the state's controversial immigration law, set to take effect in July.

Flagstaff council member Coral Evans called the law "racist," saying she could not follow a law that targets some of the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the community, the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff reported Wednesday.

Tucson council member Karin Uhlich told KOLD-TV, "Not only are there serious constitutional and civil rights questions, it's very clear it would be extremely costly for the city to try (to) implement this legislation."

Among other things, the Arizona law makes it a crime to be in the state illegally and would require law enforcement officers to check the legal status of people they suspect are undocumented.

In its action Tuesday, the Flagstaff City Council directed its city attorney to seek an injunction against the law.

Even though he voted for the measure, council member Joe Haughey said Flagstaff city officials must monitor the legal bills in the face of a $6 million budget shortfall and employee layoffs.

In Tucson, council member Steve Kozachik said he believes the law is flawed but he voted no because he thinks the city should focus on other issues.

"We spent the whole day talking about a $33 million deficit we've got and then we spent another hour and a half talking about whether or not to sue the state," he told KOLD.

Speaking before supporters Tuesday, Gov. Jan Brewer said suing was the American way.

"(If ) you disagree, you take somebody to court," she said. "(If) they want to do that, that's their privilege. I truly believe they will lose."

At least three lawsuits have challenged the new law, saying it is unconstitutional and encourages racial profiling.

Somali pirates seize Russian tanker

MOSCOW, May 5 (UPI) -- A Russian warship was sailing to the aid of a Russian oil tanker seized Wednesday by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, authorities said.

The tanker Moskovsky Universitet was en route from the Red Sea to China when it was attacked by two small boats armed with automatic weapons, RIA Novosti reported.

The tanker's captain managed to radio the warship RFS Marshal Shaposhnikov for help. The tanker was carrying 86,000 tons of crude oil and a crew of 23 Russian citizens.

The Marshal Shaposhnikov, a guided-missile destroyer, changed course for the tanker but was unlikely to reach it before Wednesday night or early Thursday, naval officials told RIA Novosti.

The destroyer arrived in the Gulf of Aden March 29 as one of a group of Russian ships sent to guard commercial ships from pirates.

South African bus crash kills at least 23

CAPE TOWN, South Africa, May 5 (UPI) -- A bus that had been suspended from service overturned in western South Africa Wednesday, killing 23 people, including four children, officials said.

Police said the driver apparently lost control of the vehicle as it was traveling to Cape Town, The (Johannesburg) Times reported.

Jo Lennox, the Western Cape community safety minister, said the bus was carrying 77 people, but only had a capacity for 64.

"The bus wasn't roadworthy and was suspended from transporting passengers" he said.

Department of Community Safety spokesman Xenophone Wetzel said 19 people died at the scene and four died en route to hospitals.

At least 15 people, including the driver of the bus, were seriously injured, he said.

The spokesman said the bus was owned by a private company, The Times said.

"We have just discovered in the system that it was not supposed to be operating as it had been suspended by the Eastern Cape traffic department because it was unroadworthy," Wentzel said.

Police officials said they were investigating whether a case of culpable homicide could be made against the driver.

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