LAST DAY  – Blatchley Middle School eighth-graders sit on the bleachers with family and friends sitting around them Thursday during the annual Rights of Passage ceremony at the school. Students gave speeches and received certificates from principal Ben White during the program which marks the students' transition to high school. Thursday was the last day of school in the district.  (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Two Planes Down In Ketchikan Area

    ANCHORAGE (AP) — The Coast Guard says at least 10 people are accounted for after two floatplanes went down in the water today near the Southeast Alaska town of Ketchikan.
    Petty Officer Jon-Paul Rios says one of the planes carried 11 people and the other plane carried five. The fate of the other six people wasn’t immediately known.
    The Coast Guard Air Station Sitka received a call about the planes around 12:30 p.m. and launched two helicopters around 1 p.m.       
    The Ketchikan Daily News reported injured passengers were being taken to a nearby lodge, where the local emergency medical services department was staging. Their conditions were not immediately known.   
    Rios says it’s not immediately clear if the planes crashed or had anything to do with each other going down in the Monday incident.   
    Weather conditions included high overcast skies with 9 mph (14 kph) southeast winds.

Alaska Braces for Warmer Climate Ticks

Associated Press
    ANCHORAGE (AP) — Health and wildlife officials are taking steps to prepare for potentially dangerous parasites that could gain a foothold because of Alaska’s warming climate.
    Non-native ticks represent a threat to wildlife and people because they can carry and transmit pathogens, said Micah Hahn, an assistant professor of environmental health with the Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
    “Things are changing really rapidly in Alaska,” she said. “It’s really important for us to establish a baseline. We need to know what ticks are already here, what ticks are established and reproducing, and where they are, so that we can monitor these changes as the environment changes in the future.”
    A $125,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health will help sample ticks and prepare a model to forecast where ticks could thrive, she said Tuesday in a presentation to the Local Environmental Observer network, whose members report unusual animal, environment and weather events.
    Researchers will look for ticks in the field. Researchers, wildlife officials and the state veterinary office also are encouraging biologists and the public to participate in a “Submit-a-Tick” program, in which they pluck blood-sucking arachnids from people and pets, drop them off at Department of Fish and Game offices and fill out a form with details of their capture.

A black legged tick, also called a deer tick, rests on a plant.  (CDC via AP, File)

    Alaska is largely free of many pests that bedevil people elsewhere, from snakes to creepy-crawly insects. Alaska’s handful of native ticks attach themselves to squirrels, snowshoe hares and wild birds and sometimes moose, dogs, or cats, but no one buys bug repellent or tick collars to keep them at bay.
    However, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game nearly a decade ago began to collect tick samples out of concern that moose ticks, which can kill moose, especially calves, could establish themselves in Alaska.
    Moose ticks have been found within Alaska’s neighbor, Canada’s Yukon Territory.
    “We are nervous that it’s very close to our border,” Hahn said.
    The search for moose ticks led to the recovery of a variety of non-native ticks, she said. Most were associated with travel outside the state. Researchers believe they hitch rides on people and pets but also migratory birds.
    In some cases, non-native brown dog ticks and American dog ticks were found by people who had not left the state in months, Hahn said. “The question is, where did that tick come from?”
    Officials have created an online Alaska tick information page with instructions on how to collect ticks. Researchers will use data collected to create a model focused on two nonnative ticks of concern, blacklegged ticks and western blacklegged ticks. Both can transmit Lyme disease. Ten Alaskans reported Lyme disease in 2017 but all were exposed in other states.
    Just because non-native ticks reach Alaska, it doesn’t mean they will survive, Hahn said. Some ticks are vulnerable to dry conditions or harsh winters. The models will coordinate tick sampling information with environmental conditions in Alaska, such as humidity, temperature and rainfall, to project where non-native ticks might thrive in future decades as climate conditions change.
    Alaska doctors and veterinarians don’t now automatically consider a connection to ticks if a person or pet shows up for treatment and has not traveled, Hahn said.
    “If we know what species are here, and where they are in the state, it can help us develop control measures to make sure we stay on top of the problem,” Hahn said.
    Online: Alaska tick information page:

Alaska to Pay Price for Cruise Pollution?

    MIAMI (AP) — A federal judge has threatened to temporarily block Carnival Corp. from docking cruise ships at ports in the United States as punishment for a possible probation violation.
    The Miami Herald reports U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz said Wednesday that she’ll make a decision in June, and she wants company chairman Micky Arison and president Donald Arnold in her courtroom for the hearing.
    “The people at the top are treating this as a gnat,” Seitz said. “If I could, I would give all the members of the executive committee a visit to the detention center for a couple of days. It’s amazing how that helps people come to focus on reality.”
        Sitka’s cruise ship schedule shows 51 stops planned by ships with 1,000 or more passengers that could be affected by the judge’s threat of action against Carnival Corp.
    The first three stops this summer will be Holland America ships, starting May 8, and the season will be well under way by the time the judge makes her decision, which she said will be some time in June.
    The Sentinel contacted Sitka cruise line agent Fred Reeder for comment, but he said he had just heard about the judge’s threat.
    Carnival Line plans one stop in Sitka this summer by the Carnival Legend, and Princess Cruises plans three stops. The most frequent visitors scheduled are the Holland America ships, the Amsterdam, Oosterdam, Eurodam and Maasdam.

The cruise ship Westerdam is pictured tied up at Old Sitka Dock in 2016. (Sentinel file photo)

    Miami-based Carnival has been on probation for two years as part of a $40 million settlement for illegally dumping oil into the ocean from its Princess Cruises ships and lying about the scheme, according to court filings.
    Despite this, prosecutors say ships have dumped grey water into Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park, prepared ships in advance of court-ordered audits to avoid unfavorable findings, falsified records and dumped plastic garbage into the ocean. The company has acknowledged these incidents in court filings.
    In a statement after the hearing, Carnival said “It appears there were some mischaracterizations made by others to the court. We intend to fully address the issues raised at today’s court conference.”
    Carnival’s Chief Communications Officer Roger Frizzell said “our environmental responsibility has been and continues to be a top priority for the company.”
    The five-year probation began in April 2017 and requires a third-party auditor to inspect ships belonging to Carnival and its subsidiaries. Carnival owns nine cruise brands and has 102 ships.
    The court filings say that during 2017 Carnival had a program in place to prepare ships in advance of the audits to avoid negative findings. Seitz ordered the company to stop in December 2017, and it stopped. But federal prosecutors said the practice continued in 2018.
    Prosecutors said internal emails shared among Carnival’s subsidiaries discussed the practice. An email from Carnival’s German-based cruise line AIDA Cruises said, “It would be really important to go onboard on August 12 for one week in order to have time to manage issues before the audits and avoid findings.”
    They said a similar email from Carnival’s Seattle-based Holland America Line mentioned “prevent audit findings” as a goal in early 2018.
    The court filings said the monitor found that Carnival and its subsidiaries repeatedly falsified records, as recently as September 2018, when an engineer on Holland America’s Westerdam ship falsified maintenance records to make it appear he had cleaned and tested equipment when he had not. The same ship, according to court filings, dumped 26,000 gallons of grey water into Glacier Bay National Park in September 2018.
    Monitors also found that the Carnival Elation ship dumped plastic garbage overboard during an audit in December. The plastic wasn’t being separated from food, court filings said.
    The judge on Wednesday mentioned a 45-minute presentation she received as a guest onboard Carnival Corp.’s ultra-luxury cruise line Seabourn about how plastic straws are damaging the marine environment.
    “I was thinking to myself, ‘I’m impressed,’” she said. “Obviously they talk the talk, but they aren’t walking the walk.”

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