…As Mexico’s president seeks inquiry into botched investigation of 43 missing students***
On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a state visit – not in Moscow, but at Zvezda Shipyard, a remote industrial complex located some 80 miles outside of Vladivostok in the Russian Far East.
Modi and Putin arrived at Zvezda by boat from Vladivostok, where both leaders are participating in the Eastern Economic Forum, and they took a tour of the yard’s new facilities. “[I’m] deeply touched by President Putin’s gracious gesture to accompany me to Zvezda shipyard, which is poised to make a huge contribution to development of Arctic shipping,” Modi said in a statement. “During our visit, President Putin showed me cutting edge technologies at the shipyard. My visit opens up new pathways of cooperation in this important field.”
The Zvezda site was active as a naval shipyard during the Soviet era and has been under redevelopment since 2009. It was re-launched under new management in late 2015. If fully built out, it would be the largest shipyard in Russia, its operator claims, and by next year it will boast the country’s largest drydock. At present, completion of the full complex is scheduled for 2024.
After urging from Putin, Russian firms like energy company Novatek have directed business to Zvezda rather than to South Korean or Chinese yards. The Russian government is providing a portion of the financing for a $4.5 billion LNG carrier order for Novatek on the condition that the vessels be built at the Zvezda facility.
Zvezda’s new title-holding drydock would also be useful for strategic purposes. The only Russian drydock facility capable of handling an aircraft carrier was a floating dock, the Murmansk-based PD-50, which sank in October 2018. The casualty left the Russian Navy unable to complete repairs on its sole carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, which was undergoing a complex overhaul at the time of the accident. The new Zvezda dock will measure nearly 500 meters long by 14 meters deep, more than enough to accommodate a carrier like the Kuznetsov if required. Drydocks of this size are considered strategic facilities; as an example, France has carefully husbanded the operation and ownership of the shipyard at Saint-Nazaire, Chantiers de l’Atlantique, because it is the only French facility capable of handling carriers.
Separately, Rosneft announced Wednesday that Zvezda Shipbuilding and Samsung Heavy Industries have launched a joint venture to manage projects for the construction of 42,000-120,000 dwt shuttle tankers at Zvezda Shipyard. Samsung is also rumored to be Zvezda’s partner for the construction of LNG carriers for Novatek’s Arctic LNG 2 project.
In another development, the Mexican President has promised to investigate the botched investigation into the abduction and disappearance of 43 teacher trainees in 2014 – one of the country’s most notorious crimes and an atrocity the then government tried to downplay as a minor local matter.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador made the announcement on Wednesday following the release of an alleged leader of the local drug gang believed to have killed the missing students who were abducted by corrupt police officers in the town of Iguala.
Experts say the release of Gildardo López Astudillo sets a precedent that could lead to the release of 50 more suspects in a case that has come to symbolize Mexico’s human rights crisis.
“It’s a very serious justice issue and because of that we’re going to formally file a complaint with the attorney general’s office and the judiciary in this case,” said López Obrador.Another 142 suspects have already been set free, said Alejandro Encinas, deputy interior secretary. He blamed authorities’ fabrication of evidence, use of torture and a general cover-up for destroying a case where real evidence existed to prosecute those responsible.
Authorities say the students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college were abducted by police and handed over to the drug gang Guerreros Unidos. López Astudillo allegedly headed the gang in Iguala.
Jesús Murillo Karam, attorney general under former president Enrique Peña Nieto, infamously announced that authorities had established the “historic truth” of the students’ disappearance. He said that the students were killed and their bodies incinerated at a garbage dump.
But independent experts said there was no evidence to support that conclusion, and investigators have definitively identified the remains of only one of the 43 students.
“The poorly named ‘historic truth’ was built with a foundation of cover-up, fabrication of evidence and torture to the benefit of the perpetrators and against the victims’ rights,” Encinas said. “The historic truth collides with reality.”
Encinas made clear Murillo Karam and other top officials involved in the case should be included in the investigation.
“What we have now are a series of trials, which are falling apart,” said María Luisa Aguilar, international affairs director for the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Centre, which has worked with the students’ families.
“The impression the families have is that the investigators tried to shelve the investigation,” she added. “They didn’t do a proper investigation into what happened or the students’ whereabouts – which is what the families care about most.”
The UN’s human rights office said in a report last year that Mexican authorities had probably tortured dozens of people during the investigation.
Peña Nieto’s popularity suffered lasting damage from the scandal over the disappearances, and his government was heavily criticized for its handling of the investigation.
Maritime Executive with additional reports from Guardian UK