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Three Dead, 113 Unaccounted for in Japan Landslide; Tigrayans in Desperate Need of Humanitarian Aid; At Least 50 Killed in Philippine Military Plane Crash; U.S. Software Firm Hit by 'Sophisticated Cyberattack'; British P.M. to Set Out Next Steps in England's Reopening Plan. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired July 5, 2021 - 00:00   ET


PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Paula Newton.


Ahead right here on CNN NEWSROOM, the painstaking search for survivors in Japan. More than 100 people are still unaccounted for after a devastating landslide.

Unspeakable misery. Ethiopia grapples with a humanitarian crisis, only likely to get worse.

And, later, the environmental fallout from a cargo ship disaster off Sri Lanka's coast, from beaches littered with plastic pellets, to marine life washing up dead.

And we begin this hour with new developments out of Japan. Just days after a massive and devastating landslide in the city of Atami. Now, a local official tells CNN three people are now confirmed dead, and more than 100 others are still unaccounted for.

Even as emergency workers racing to find survivors, rain, and unfortunately, the threat of another landslide are complicating rescue efforts.

For more on this, we want to bring in CNN's Blake Essig, who is live for us in Atami, Japan.

You've been on the scene for a while now. Depressing. The death toll stands at three, sure, but it's the fact that 113 are still unaccounted for. Can you give us any sense of the hundreds that are out there right now, in this search-and-rescue mission, what they're facing this hour?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Paula, we were pretty close to that path of death and destruction yesterday. And when you look at what remains after this mudslide came through, the idea that 100-plus people could be missing and might have died as a result of this mudslide, it's easy to understand.

I mean, that -- that mudslide left nothing in its wake. But for a second full day, search-and-rescue crews are digging for survivors after a massive mudslide swept through this seaside resort town of Atami.

So far, 23 people who were stranded inside structures have been rescued, but at this point, as you mentioned, three people are dead, and there are still at least 113 people who have either been reported missing or are unaccounted for.

And now, while hope remains, I did speak with one woman moments ago who says she hasn't heard from her husband since early Saturday morning. She was told by neighbors that he was outside when the landslide came crashing through town and was likely swept away.

Now, while she said she -- she hopes that he's still alive, more than anything, she just wants to see him again.

Now more than 560 people are now sheltering at two private hotels in Atami. Those hotels are being used as evacuation centers in order to limit the potential spread of COVID-19.

Now, more than 1,100 people are now assisting with search efforts. That includes police officers, firefighters, the Coast Guard, and members of the Self-Defense Force.

Throughout the day, on Sunday, and what we're seeing today, we watched as crews used chainsaws to cut their way through wreckage, searching for survivors. Drones and helicopters were used to survey the area. There's a helicopter ahead right now doing that same thing.

Coast Guard ships are scouring the coastline. We saw at least one dog being used to squeeze inside partially collapsed buildings. The landslide cut a path of death and destruction, turning what was once a residential area into a wasteland.

City officials say 130 homes have been completely destroyed, either buried or swept away, while an additional 100 to 300 homes have been damaged. Police have put in roadblocks, so only residents and emergency personnel are allowed inside the disaster area, an area that still remains dangerous, even though it hasn't rained much today, Paula.

NEWTON: And that's the point. As you said, even if the rain has abated a little bit, this is still a very vulnerable territory, and land that they're standing on. It's quite dangerous.

Look, I know officials have been talking a little bit there. It's early, sure, but are they having any kind of luck trying to figure out might have caused this?

ESSIG: You know, at a recent press conference, Paula, the governor of Shizuoka said that the prefecture will investigate the cause of the landslide. One theory that will be looked into is whether it was caused by housing, land, and development projects, that have deforested the area above Atami and possibly reduced the mountain's ability to retain water. Walking around town today and yesterday, I talked to several residents

who shared that same theory, believing that this was a manmade disaster. They said residents have been outspoken and expressed concern about a possible landslide for years, as a result of cleared land for housing, and the development of a major solar farm.

NEWTON: Yes. A lot to explore there, in terms of what might have caused this. And a good point that you make. These are still dangerous hours and days ahead for those attempting to rescue people there.

Blake, appreciate you being on the ground. Thank you.

Now, developing news out of south Florida. Officials have carried out a controlled demolition of the partially collapsed condo building. What was left of the 12-story structure was brought down a short time ago. And you see it there.

The demolition timeline was stepped up over fears about the impact of the approaching tropical storm, Elsa. The mayor of Surfside, Florida, says it needed to happen for search-and-rescue efforts to resume safely.


MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: This is a tragedy. Taking down this building is a sad affair. We have families that have their life's possessions in those units. We had families that had their life possessions in the units that were destroyed, so this is really just a continuation of the tragedy. Unfortunately, this is something that has to be done.


NEWTON: Now, about 55 of the building's 135 units crashed to the ground. This is 11 days ago now. Twenty-four people have been confirmed dead, while 121 people are still unaccounted for. Certainly, a sad moment there for those families that are hoping to see their loved ones.

OK, to Ethiopia's months-long civil war, and it's causing a massive hunger crisis. The U.N. says 1.8 million people in the northern Tigray region are on the brink of famine.

Hundreds of thousands of people there are already in famine. Some 33,000 children are severely malnourished. And the upcoming rainy season is expected to make things much worse.

Tigrayan leaders, meantime, say they are ready for a negotiated cease- fire with Ethiopia's government. But only if Ethiopian and Eritrean troops, crucially, leave the region.

Last week, Ethiopia's government announced a truce after some eight brutal months of war. Tigrayan forces rejected that offer, saying Sunday they needed more ironclad protections.

And time, of course, is ticking down. The humanitarian crisis on Tigray is careening out of control. Here's Larry Madowo, who explains.


LARRY MADOWO, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Truckloads of supplies, bound for people desperate for food in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) region, stand still at a checkpoint for days.

This footage, filmed by Reuters more than a week ago, shows sacks of aid eventually being unloaded from the trucks at a warehouse near a checkpoint, controlled by government allied forces. The stockpile here is little help to the people of Tigray without enough to eat.

The U.N. warns shipments like these are critical, as shortages of food in the war-torn region have sharply increased in the past few weeks.

RAMESH RAJASINGHAM, ACTING U.N. AID CHIEF: One of the most distressing trends is the alarming lies of food insecurity and hunger, due to conflict. More than 400,000 people are estimated to have crossed the threshold into famine. And another people 1.8 million are on the brink of famine.

MADOWO: The World Food Programme says it has resumed operations in Tigray, and it's facing access problems from ongoing fighting. And the destruction of key supply routes, like this bridge, that the U.N. says was targeted by forces allied to the government.

The Ethiopian government denies blocking aid and blames Tigray fighters for blocking the bridge. The spokesman for the Tigray People's Liberation Front, which has been battling the government in an eight-month civil war, says the damage is part of the government's plan to cut off the region.

GETACHEW REDA, TIGRAY PEOPLE'S LIBERATION FRONT SPOKESMAN (via phone): Amhara and Abiy's forces are destroying and blowing us bridges so they could, one, prevent humanitarian aid from reaching the people of Tigray and, second, and more importantly for them, to prevent Tigray forces from taking over the western part of Tigray.

MADOWO: The urgent need for food aid, coinciding with a major shift in battle. A week ago, the Tigray defense forces re-took the regional capital, Mekelle. It's a blow to the government, which, with the help of Eritrean soldiers, forced the fighters out of the city last November.

The foreign ministry criticized Tigrayan forces for at first rejecting a ceasefire called by the government.

DINA MUFTI, ETHIOPIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translator): The cessation of hostilities was taken unilaterally from our side. However, to implement this cease-fire fully, it needs two to tango. The other side has to react appropriately.

MADOWO: But on Sunday, Tigray set out conditions for a negotiated cease-fire that include an independent investigation into alleged war crimes and a safe corridor for aid to reach the region. This follows a show of power by Tigrayan forces as they paraded

thousands of captured Ethiopian soldiers through their recaptured territory.

But it's a victory that could be short-lived. Food and fuel are running out in the city because of a blockade by Ethiopian forces. Eyewitnesses say government forces and militias are obstructing roads out of the city, and there is no power there, leaving many homes without running water. Conditions that will surely bring more misery to civilians if help does not arrive soon.

Larry Madowo, CNN.


NEWTON: Alex De Waal is the executive director of the World Peace Foundation. He joins me now from Boston. He is also a research professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

You know, the situation just seems to get more dire. The U.N. says more than 400,000 people now are in a state of famine, 1.8 million more on the brink of famine. Aid is still not to be seeming to reach those most in need. Why not? Because many are saying right now this disaster could reach historic proportions.

ALEX DE WAAL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WORLD PEACE FOUNDATION: It could certainly reach really horrendous proportions, and in fact, the USAID is saying that more than 900,000 are in famine conditions. And we're likely to see the deaths of up to 30,000 children -- because it's children, really, that die in these famines -- over the coming weeks.

What we've seen in the last couple of weeks is a very dramatic shift, because until two weeks ago, the main driver of the famine was a campaign of starvation crimes, we can call them. Destroying food, raping women, dismantling the economic infrastructure by the occupying armies of Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Now, what's happened now is those armies have actually been defeated. The Tigrayan resistance, driven by the desperation that people knew that the only thing that they could do was to resist these forces. The Tigray resistance has actually driven out these armies.

But what we have now is a siege, essentially. The government of Ethiopia is refusing to allow food in. It's blown up one of the major bridges, which is a supply route. It diluted the United Nations agencies as its forces left. And it has made no effort, no concession, to allowing any food.

So we have, as it were, a situation in which the population of more than five million people, four million of whom need food aid, is completely surrounded, and none of that aid is getting in.

NEWTON: And I'm glad you point this out, to really put the scope of this, and the politics in perspective. Because the point is, right now, the Ethiopian government says that they've declared a cease-fire, but no idea where any of that stands. It's very confusing. And yet, as you say, the people on the ground here are really at their mercy.

DE WAAL: The cease-fire was, really, a face saver. Because they declared it only when their forces were actually being driven out of Tigray. And as the ambassador to the United Nations of the U.S., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said, speaking to the U.N., the cease-fire is really only meaningful if the key weapon that the Ethiopians are using, which is starvation, which is hunger, if that weapon is ceased to be used.

So a huge amount of pressure is being put on the government of Ethiopia at the moment to allow that essential food aid, it will come to stop this famine.

On the other side, just today, the Tigrayan defense forces declared their preconditions for a cease-fire, which, on one hand, each of those conditions is on its own quite reasonable, but the tone with which it made the announcement, making it clear that they intend to continue fighting, at least for the time being.

And there's a sort of exchange of insults. The Tigrayans call the government a fascist clique, and the government calls the Tigray, a criminal junta. So there's really no willingness on either side at the moment to sit down and talk peace and talk interests of the people who are starving.

NEWTON: Yes, and again, it is that political stalemate that is putting people at risk now. How quickly do you think this could escalate further? Because it is a precarious situation right now.

I mean, I'm old enough to remember the famine in Ethiopia in the Eighties. I'm not suggesting it's gotten to that point, but how much danger, vulnerability, is there in the region right now?

DE WAAL: I have worked on this issue of famine and conflict since the 1980s. And I have never seen a situation that is as dire as this. There are places in Tigray that are as bad as it was in 1984, '85. The reason why we are not being energized, animated by it, is we don't have the pictures. There are almost no journalists that have had access to the starving in Tigray.

And the starving are dispersed in remote villages. They're not concentrated in famine camps. But when we get those pictures, as we surely will, we will be moved, and we will also be moved to ask, why didn't we act beforehand when this was preventable?

NEWTON: Yes. And a key point is, why is there no pressure, or at least not enough pressure, it seems, on the Ethiopian government?

Alex de Waal, thank you so much for your perspective on this.

DE WAAL: Thank you.

NEWTON: Former South African President Jacob Zuma is lashing out at the judged who sentenced him, comparing them to white apartheid-era rulers. And Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in jail for contempt of court for refusing to answer questions from an anti-corruption commission.

He was supposed to turn himself in Sunday, but that's been delayed until the court hears his challenge to the jail term on July 12.


JACOB ZUMA, FORMER SOUTH AFRICAN PRESIDENT: Things like detention without trial should never again see the light of day in South Africa. The struggle for a free South Africa was a struggle for justice where everyone is treated equally before the law.


NEWTON: Zuma also faces multiple charges including fraud, racketeering, and corruption relating to an arms deal when he was deputy president. He denies all charges.

Just ahead here on a NEWSROOM, new images show the aftermath of a deadly military plane crash in the Philippines. Why investigators are still puzzled.

And this grocery store chain in Sweden says it's the latest victim in a larger series of cyberattacks, alarming officials right around the world. Why thousands of companies could be affected.



NEWTON: That was the scene in Santiago, Chile, as police pushed back protesters with water cannons and tear gas. They've gathered to protest the swearing in of a constitutional convention, made up of 155 members who will decide on the framework of a new constitution.

No arrests have been reported, and the new committee has at least nine months to draft and approve a new constitution.

Officials in the Philippines say everyone has now been accounted for in Sunday's deadly military plane crash. At least 50 people were killed and dozens more hurt after a Philippine Air Force plane crashed while attempting to land.

Three of the fatalities were from people on the ground. The C-130 aircraft burst into flames after missing the runway and crashing into a nearby village. The video shows a large plume of smoke rising from the wreckage. You see it there, just moments after the crash. It's the country's worst military air disaster in decades.

CNN producer Angus Watson joins me now from Sydney, where he's been watching all this.

The details are horrific enough, right? Soldiers, apparently, who survived, had to jump and run as that aircraft was exploding. Bring us up to date on what's going on now with the recovery mission.

ANGUS WATSON, CNN PRODUCER: Well, the recovery mission has been able to find all the people that were on board, 96 people on that flight manifest, on that plane that was flying from Mindanao in the southern Philippines to the island of Jolo, and then crashed as it missed the runway, Paula.

But as you say, the crash was so violent that the people that were doing that recovery effort, the military, were worried that they wouldn't be able to identify everybody.

Now they're saying that they will have enough available to them to identify all 40 or so people that have died. Of course, 50 people that -- I'm sorry, that were injured. Fifty people have died. That includes civilians as the plane crashed into the town there, Paula.

NEWTON: She seemed just so incredibly horrific there. We'll wait to see if they know anything more about how this possibly could have happened.

Angus Watson for us. Thanks for the update there from Sydney.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, will not close following the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region. Now, in a series of tweets released over the weekend, the embassy says, "While the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is ending, the U.S. embassy will continue our diplomatic, humanitarian, and security assistance programs in Afghanistan."

The embassy confirmed reports they were updating emergency evacuation plans, given growing risks of violence. The State Department says it's a commonplace practice among all embassies.

A major supermarket chain in Sweden says it is among the many victims of a larger, global cyberattack aimed at an American software company. A spokesperson for Co-op Sweden tells CNN a major I.T. disruption affected its cash registers, prompting the grocery chain to have to close more than half of its 800 stores.

Now, it comes as U.S. cyber officials track a massive ransomware attack on software vendor Kaseya. The firm says it's the victim of a sophisticated cyberattack.

The White House is urging companies who believe their systems were compromised to immediately report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. President Joe Biden says he's directed federal agencies to insist in the investigation.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, we're not sure who it is.

The director of the intelligence community gave me a deep dive on what's happening, and I'll know better tomorrow. And if it is either with the knowledge of, and/or a consequence of Russia, then I told Putin we will respond.

We're not certain. The initial thinking was it was not the Russian government.


NEWTON: Dmitri Alperovitch is a cybersecurity expert and the cofounder and former chief technology officer of CrowdStrike. He's currently the chairman of the Silverado Policy Accelerator, focusing on geopolitical cybersecurity. He joins me now from Washington, D.C.

Really happy to be able to tap into your expertise on this. I mean, what do we know so far about the scope and the character of this cyberattack?

DMITRI ALPEROVITCH, COFOUNDER, CHIEF TECHNOLOGY OFFICER, CROWDSTRIKE: So what we know is that we had one company, an I.T. management company called Kaseya, whose software was compromised, and as a result, at least 1,000, probably more, customers were compromised by this ransomware group called REvil.

This is the same group that compromised the meat processing company JBS, last month, and has been a menace for many, many businesses around the country for the last couple of years.


NEWTON: In terms of scope, though, it seems that the more layers we -- we pull back here, the more dire the situation is in terms of its implications.

ALPEROVITCH: Absolutely. The worst thing here is that the types of customers that this company has are small businesses. These are not Fortune 500 companies that have the resources to either pay the ransom or hire competent teams to restore the data.

These are small businesses, maybe car dealership, accountant, your real estate broker. The types of companies and people that really don't have the money to pay to restore the data. And these criminals are charging upwards of $45,000 per machine to get it up and running.

NEWTON: Per machine must be totally crippling for that grocery outfit. And in terms of the damage that could be done here, and the level of sophistication, I have to ask, where are the company defenses? Are they not on place? Or are they just not good enough?

ALPEROVITCH: Well, these groups are now becoming so good. Remember, they're taking hundreds of millions of dollars in ransoms every single year from all these victims that they're hitting that they are able to buy up the most sophisticated cyber weapons, hire the best developers. Their capabilities are now rivaling some of the best nation states.

So it doesn't excuse companies to get hacked, but for certain, they're facing a really formidable adversary now.

NEWTON: OK. What you're saying is pretty chilling for critical infrastructure. And not that this wasn't disruptive, but obviously, there are vulnerabilities here. ALPEROVITCH: There are huge vulnerabilities. Everyone can be impacted

by this. If they think you can pay money, if you think they will pay money, they're going to come after you.

NEWTON: Is there any doubt that the origins of this are still linked to Russia? Now, I noticed that President Biden, some members of Congress, even, those members of Congress who are also privy to U.S. intelligence reports, you know, they've been careful not to blame the Russian government. What's your opinion about who's behind this?

ALPEROVITCH: We don't think that the Russian government is behind this, but there's pretty clear evidence that the people that are part of this criminal organization, are at least, in part, based in Russia.

And there's no question that the Russian intelligence services are aware of them. I don't think they're directing them, but at the minimum, they're letting them continue to operate because they find it convenient, because they may be getting paid off.

So President Biden was completely right to demand from President Putin, in Geneva last month, to start dealing with these criminals, to start arresting them. And now that we've had yet another attack, post- summit, we need to ratchet up the pressure on Russia.

NEWTON: Thank you for being here. Appreciate it.


NEWTON: A Delta variant is driving up COVID-19 case numbers across the U.K., but in the coming hours, the British prime minister is expected to lay out England's final steps to reopening. That's ahead.

And the pope appeared for his regular Sunday blessing, like usual, but he later underwent surgery. Coming up next.



NEWTON: And a warm welcome back to all our viewers around the world. Thanks for your company. I'm Paula Newton. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Now, in the hours ahead, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to lay out the final steps -- He says they're final -- for England's reopening. It will focus on social distancing, face coverings, and working from home.

Now, the further easing of restrictions come even as cases are surging, once again, in the U.K., driven by that Delta variant. Nic Robertson has more from London.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Britain's leap of faith is nearing, when enough vaccine is enough to remove remaining restrictions and the balance between politics, and science, tips in favor of more politically driven decisions.

DR. RAVI GUPTA, MEMBER, U.K.'S NERVTAG ADVISORY GROUP: The problem is that there are too many known parameters in figuring out what vaccine coverage is needed.

ROBERTSON: Dr. Ravi Gupta is an immunology expert and a member of the government COVID advisory NERVTAG team.

GUPTA: We're fixing a targeted vaccination percentages, probably, that are the most appropriate thing at the moment, because we're not going to get to the levels that we really need, because to do that, we'd need to go to children. And that's going to take time.

ROBERTSON: British politicians appear ready to test the science. Standing by an already delayed, so-called Freedom Day, July 19, when remaining COVID restrictions are removed.

SAJID JAVID, BRITISH HEALTH SECRETARY: The prime minister has called it our terminus (ph) date. For me, 19th July is not only the end of the line but the start of an exciting new journey for our country.

ROBERTSON: In his first full day on the job last week, the U.K.'s new health secretary was bullish.

JAVID: No date we choose comes with zero risk for COVID. We know we cannot simply eliminate it. We have to learn to live with it.

ROBERTSON (on camera): The problem here in the U.K. is that infections are rising rapidly because of the Delta variant. In the past, the response would have been to put on more restrictions, but now, the moment of really testing new vaccine data, has arrived.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The speed of that vaccine rollout has broken that link between infection and mortality. And that's an amazing thing. That gives us the scope, we think, on the 19th, to go ahead; cautiously, irreversibly, to go ahead.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Israel among the first countries to near full vaccination, and a bellwether for vaccine efficacy, was recently forced to reverse some of its COVID protections, dropped when it ended all restrictions June 1 as COVID infections spiked.

A reality that seems to shame Johnson's characteristic sunny optimism, adding this caveat: Freedom Day will not be complete freedom.

JOHNSON: Try it get back to life, as close to where it was before COVID. But there may be some things we have to do, and some extra proportions that we have to take, but I'll be setting all that up.

ROBERTSON: Getting those precautions right, Dr. Gupta says, is critical.

GUPTA: The more transmission we allow, the more opportunity the virus has to evolve further, and you know, Delta may be just be the beginning of another line of things the virus is able to do. ROBERTSON (on camera): We are, undoubtedly, less in the dark about

this pandemic than we were a year ago. Even so, as a new phase of living with COVID-19 nears, we remain in seriously uncharted territory.

Nic Robertson, CNN, London.


NEWTON: So Russia is reporting its highest number of daily cases of COVID-19 since early January. According to state news, more than 2,500 new infections were posted Sunday. The figure has not been this high since January 2.

Now, Russia reported record daily deaths for five days in a row last week. but Sunday's death toll fell slightly. That was likely due to reporting delays.

Now, despite being the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine, Russia lacks behind much of the world in terms of vaccination rates.

Myanmar is also breaking COVID records, reporting an all-time high number of new cases Sunday. More than 2,300 new infections were posted by government officials. All this as the country continues to be wrecked by protests following the military coup February 1.

Pope Francis is now resting in the hospital after undergoing surgery Sunday. The Vatican says the 85-year-old pontiff was treated for colon diverticulitis in a scheduled procedure.

CNN's Vatican correspondent, Delia Gallagher, has the details.



DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: A brief statement late Sunday evening from the Vatican said the pope's surgery had gone well. He has been operated on the lower part of the colon, called the sigmoid, under general anesthetic. No further details were given.

The Vatican made the surprising announcement on Sunday afternoon that the pope would be having surgery for colon diverticulitis. This is something experts say can affect the elderly. It is an inflammation of the colon. It can sometimes be managed with antibiotics and diet. Or, sometimes, as in the case of the pope, requires surgery.

Now, importantly, the Vatican during that statement said that this was scheduled surgery. So there was not a sense of emergency about it. Nonetheless, under general anesthetic, at 84 years old, it did have its risks.

Importantly, also, we saw the pope on Sunday afternoon at his window in St. Peter's Square, as we have seen him throughout the week at his public events. And there was no indication of a problem. He is resting now at the Gemelli Hospital, just behind me. No word yet on just how long he'll have to stay.

Delia Gallagher, CNN, Rome.


NEWTON: So, we are watching the effects of man-made environmental disaster unfold.

When we come back, a look at the devastation on marine life off the coast of Sri Lanka and the impact on those living near it.

And the container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for six days in March, you'll remember, it will soon set sail again. A settlement that's behind that.


NEWTON: The owners and insurers of a container ship the blocked the Suez Canal in March have agreed to a settlement. The Ever Given container ship will be allowed to set sail on Wednesday.

The Suez Canal Authority held the giant ship during the authorities' dispute for compensation. Now, no details of the settlement were given.

The authority originally demanded $916 million for salvage efforts and -- this is key here -- lost revenue. It later lowered the request to 550 million.

The Japanese owned vessel became stuck om high winds and remained wedged right across the canal for six days, disrupting global trade.

We are just now seeing the environmental destruction caused by a ship that sank off the coast of Sri Lanka last month. But experts warn this could be just the start of something far, far worse.

CNN's Paula Hancocks has more.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Already endangered in the waters of Sri Lanka, sea turtles, are now dying by the dozen, likely poisoned by toxic chemicals spilling from the burning cargo ship, the government says.

More than 170 turtles, four whales, and 20 dolphins have so far washed up dead, according to the Marine Environment Protection Authority.


The Singapore flight container ship, Express Pearl, caught fire on May 20, off the coast of Colombo. It burned out of control for two weeks before sinking, sparking fears of an oil spill.

No sign yet of 350 tons of fuel oil on board seeping into the ocean, but, nearly 80 tons of plastic pellets, or nurdles, are already widespread.

CHARI PATTIARATCHI, UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN AUSTRALIA: There has been instances where the nurdles have been caught up in the gills of fish. Then they suffocate, and that could same happen to dolphins. So, turtles suffocate.

DON MUDITHA KATUWAWALA, PEARL PROTECTORS: This is an unimaginable disaster we are seeing not just to the marine environment but to the coast, as well.

HANCOCKS: The United Nations representative in Sri Lanka has said, "An environmental emergency of this nature causes significant damage to the planet by the release of hazardous substances into the ecosystem."

Not to mention, the devastating impact on the local fishing community, many of whom rely on daily wage work.

D.S. FERNANDO, NEGAMBO FISHERMAN (through translator): Not only do we have the shipwreck and, the fishing, but people are now scared of eating fish, because it might be contaminated. Prices have also dropped drastically. The situation is hopeless.

SARIKA DINALI, NEGAMBO RESIDENT (through translator): You also heard about what was in the ship and the chemicals? We are scared. So now, for weeks we have not consumed any seafood.

HANCOCKS: As locals try to assess the financial damage of one of the country's worst environmental disasters, one local activist has filed a lawsuit against the government and ship officials for environmental damage and, quote, "inadequacy of preparedness."

The government has not responded to CNN's request for comment on the lawsuit. The captain of the ship was arrested then released on bail. He's not formally being charged. His attorney says the captain is a witness and is not commenting.

The cleanup along the beach has been in full swing for weeks. The devastating impact from the plastic pellets alone will be felt for years.

PATTIARATCHI: The major concern is that they last. They're inert material, redistributed along most of the Indian Ocean, Northern Indian Ocean countries. If you go looking for them, you will find them for years to come.

HANCOCKS: The plastic pellets alone are being spread far and wide by the ocean currents. This graphic, from oceanography professor Chari Pattiaratchi, shows their projected movements towards India and Indonesia.

The Express Pearl is now resting on the seabed, according to the ship's owners, its toxic cargo polluting and killing marine life, in the water surrounding it.

And acute concerns of an oil spill from the wreckage mean that this environmental catastrophe still has the potential to become significantly worse in Sri Lanka and beyond.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Seoul.


NEWTON: And I want to thank you for spending part of your day with me. I'm Paula Newton. Stay with us. WORLD SPORT is next.