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Cruise Ship Disaster off Coast of Italy; Costa CEO Holds Press Conference; China's New Online Train Ticketing System Causing Problems Amongst Migrant Workers, Oil Worker Strike Suspended in Nigeria

Aired January 16, 2012 - 00:08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, HOST: Welcome to NEWS STREAM, where news and technology meet.

I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong.

And we begin in Italy, where we're expecting to hear from the CEO of the company that runs this cruise liner to talk about how this disaster happened.

Soldiers replace protesters on the streets of Nigeria as a nationwide strike over fuel prices is suspended.

And the world's biggest annual human migration is under way as millions of Chinese workers return home for the Lunar Near Year holiday.

Bad weather has forced rescuers to suspend their search of the Costa Concordia. The cruise ship ran into rocks on Friday night off the coast of Italy.

This video captures a terrifying moment on the overturned luxury liner. Survivors say the evacuation was chaotic and some had to fend for themselves. Sixteen people are believed to still be missing.

Earlier, rescuers found another body, bringing the death toll to six. And since the accident, questions have surrounded the captain's actions, and he was arrested. Now, his employer says he may have been to blame.

A statement from Costa Cruises says this: "While the investigation is ongoing, preliminary indications are that there may have been significant human error on the part of the ship's master which resulted in these grave consequences." Authorities are also questioning the first officer.

A local fisherman tells CNN that the area is known for its rocky seafloor, and the Italian Coast Guard says that the rocks are well documented. Let's take a closer look at the geography of where this all happened.

Now, the Costa Concordia, it had set sail from the city of Civitavecchia. That's north of Rome on Italy's west coast. It was scheduled to stop in the northern Italian city of Savona. And this is the route the cruise liner was supposed to take between the Italian mainland and the small Tuscan island of Giglio.

But this in red, this is the route it ended up taking, directly toward Giglio. And the ship was reportedly traveling about four kilometers off course when it struck a rock. And then the captain turned the Concordia toward land.

Now, that was no easy feat considering how close it was to shore. And the liner had a draft of more than eight meters. That is the depth of water it needs to sail. But nothing could save the ship.

It listed badly after running aground within sight of Giglio's harbor. And for those on board it was a terrifying ordeal, with many passengers describing scenes of chaos and confusion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NANCY LAFARO, COSTA CONCORDIA PASSENGER: Approximately 30 or 40 minutes after the collision, that we finally heard announcements being made. And in English, we heard that they were saying everything was under control, that there was an electrical problem with the generator. My husband and I looked at each other and said they're full of it, we have to get off this boat.

VIVIAN SHAFER, COSTA CONCORDIA PASSENGER: There wasn't anybody to help you. I mean, really, the passengers were loading the lifeboats by themselves.

RONDA ROSENTHAL, COSTA CONCORDIA PASSENGER: We had to go about four or five gates down before we found a lifeboat we could get into, and then the people were very angry that we got on that lifeboat because it was very crowded.

MARK PLATH, COSTA CONCORDIA PASSENGER: The angle of the boat was so steep, they couldn't get us out. So they brought us to the down side of the ship, real close to the water. And we -- they had a life raft that they blew up, but it got caught under one of the cranes, and the boat started moving very quickly. There were maybe 200 people there, and the life raft exploded because the boat was on top of the life raft.

And at that time, the water was only two meters from us, so we jumped in and swam to shore. It was about 300 feet, or about 100 meters from us. And so there were 200 people that swam to shore and climbed up on to the rocks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STOUT: And we've mentioned, the search has been suspended, but rescuers hope to start it up again.

And Dan Rivers is there. He's on Giglio Island. He's near the capsized Concordia. He joins us now live.

And Dan, the search, it is now suspended. But when will it start up again?

DAN RIVERS, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's been quite a lot of activity in the last hour or so, Kristie, here. Helicopters again circling over the wreck of the Costa Concordia. At the moment, it's quiet. And I'm noticing that a lot of the ships that were quite close yesterday have backed right off.

So we're trying to establish if that suspension is still in place. But what we were being told was that the fire crews aboard had detected movement, and we watched as they winched (ph) at least three firefighters off the wreck, obviously concerned that the ship may be moving. They may have kind of felt the ship moving and heard it moving aboard.

And now the thing that's now the big concern, we're told that there are more than 2,300 tons of fuel oil aboard. This is a beautiful, pristine area of coast. It's famous for diving, this island. And the Italian environment minister has warned that there needs to be urgent action, and this is a very high risk of an ecological disaster here, as well as a human one.

And so I think that's weighing heavily as well for the authorities here, not only the continued search for survivors -- and let's face it, after this amount of time, I think the hopes are fading now of finding anyone else alive and recovering the missing people if there are bodies still out there, but also to try and stop this boat breaking up, or sinking completely, and all of that fuel oil spilling on to this beautiful island here off Italy's west coast.

STOUT: Dan, this is a human tragedy. This could very well turn into an environmental disaster, as you just mentioned.

The CEO of the company is blaming human error for the accident, but we all know by now so many things went wrong. So what is your understanding at this point of the factors that led up to this disaster?

RIVERS: Well, certainly it seems there was a history of this particular cruise liner going very close to this island for reasons of the links between some of the crew and this island. We understand some of the crew are from this island. A former captain of the ship now lives on the island. And there was a bit of a kind of tradition of them coming fairly close in past here and sounding the ship's horn.

A lot of the islanders would come out. We're told some even come out in the middle of the night if they were passing in the night to see and give them a wave.

Now, whether that tradition has led to a sort of slight culture of complacency, that they gradually just took it closer and closer and closer until, finally, they came unstuck, we don't know. I mean, the ship's captain has maintained that he was 300 meters at least away, and his chart showed there was plenty of water underneath their keel. But from the people we've spoken to here, it must have been closer than that, they say.

The rocks are all well charted and documented here, and there is a chain of rocks going off over that way that it appears to have hit, which is a well known dive spot anyway. And, you know, people here are just kind of bewildered as to why they would take such an enormous vessel -- it's 290 meters long -- why would you take anything that big, that close to the island and the rocks?

STOUT: Yes, that a very key question that remains unanswered, why the ship was so close to shore.

Dan, another key question is, what happened in the minutes after the ship run aground? And serious questions about the adequacy of the response on board the cruise liner.

What have you heard?

RIVERS: Absolutely. I mean, those testimonies coming from lots of different passengers speaking of chaos, of a lack of communication from the ship's captain or the staff. Some of the foreign tourists, the American tourists, saying that there were announcements in Italian, they didn't understand what was going on. A complete breakdown of order in terms of getting people onto the life rafts, of a real sort of fight to get onto life rafts. And some suggestions that the captain and crew left before everyone else was off.

Now, he's maintained he and he his crew were the last ones off this ship, but other accounts contradict that, suggesting that several passengers, many passengers, perhaps, were left aboard after the captain and the crew scrambled themselves on to this island. So we haven't got a full picture yet, but what they have got is the black box sort of flight recorder, if you like, or the ship's cruise reporter, which will give a precise GPS readout of where the ship was. It will give information about the engines and about possibly onboard cameras as well to show precisely what happened.

It may show precisely who was at the wheel, who was on the bridge, who was in charge at that particular moment, and what happened next. And I think that's obviously going to be key.

The Coast Guard we spoke to last night said a preliminary investigation of the GPS positions would clearly indicate the ship was much closer than 300 meters to the rocks. And as I'm speaking to you, Kristie, again, a helicopter is going over. So that may be a sign that perhaps they're beginning to look at restarting the search and rescue. Perhaps they feel it's safe to go back on board the Costa Concordia.

STOUT: That's right. At least 16 people believed to be still missing.

Dan Rivers, joining us live from the scene of this disaster.

You can see quite clearly, the Costa Concordia just meters behind him, lying on its side there. Very dramatic pictures live from Italy.

And we are still awaiting that press conference from the CEO of Costa Cruises. If and when that happens, we'll bring it to you live, right here on NEWS STREAM.

Now, Carnival Corporation is the parent company of Costa Cruises, and the Concordia is one of the biggest ships of the Costa fleet. It was built in 2006. It measures 290 meters long. It's almost as long as the Eiffel Tower in Paris is high.

It has 13 floors and 1,500 cabins. It also has four swimming pools, including this one, with the slide. It has a spa, 13 bars, five restaurants.

But for the passengers and crew on board on Friday evening, the ship certainly was not the "floating temple of fun" it promised to be on the Costa Web site.

Now, this is a close-up view of the kind of damage that the Concordia sustained when it ran aground, and you can see the rocks that tore through the side of the ship. Investigators have to learn more from the ship's black box. The recorder is similar to those carried on airplanes. And for now, we're learning bits and pieces from passengers.

My colleague Ralitsa Vassileva asked Benji Smith to share his experience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJI SMITH, CRUISE SHIP PASSENGER: The whole ship seemed to tilt over the span of 10 or 15 seconds, up to maybe 30 degrees. And cups, wine glasses, wine bottles were falling off of the chairs. The TV slid down and almost fell onto our heads if we hadn't jumped up to grab it in time. Furniture was falling over. And then the lights flickered out and came back on.

Then we grabbed our life jackets and ran to the fourth deck, because that's where the --

RALITSA VASSILEVA, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Now, how did you know to go there? Was there any instruction given by the ship to evacuate, to do something, an explanation as to what had happened?

SMITH: We read that information in a packet that was in our bunk, but we also -- we attended a safety presentation on the first day which turned out not to actually have any safety information in it. It was only a sales pitch for excursions. So we read the safety information that the evacuation boats were on the fourth deck in our book.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STOUT: Now, compelling and very detailed testimony from a survivor there.

Costa Cruises says it complies with all safety regulations.

And still to come here on NEWS STREAM, we have an exclusive report from inside Syria on the front line, where protests and bloodshed have gone hand in hand for the best part of a year.

In Nigeria, after days of protests, labor unions got what they wanted as President Goodluck Jonathan cut fuel prices, but the strikes could continue.

And Pakistan's prime minister is in something of a political pickle. We'll tell you why he'll be in court later this week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STOUT: Welcome back.

We want to take you live now to Genoa, Italy. That's where the company that operated the ill-fated cruise is based. Let's listen to the Costa chairman and CEO, what he has to say.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

PIER LUIGI FOSCHI, CEO & CHAIRMAN, COSTA: We are really, really sorry. We really (INAUDIBLE) tragic event.

As we speak, in the last 48 hours, 1,100 employees of Costa worldwide are working to address the very first priority, which is to -- taking care and to account for all passengers and crew, and to secure the vessel to ensure there are no more environmental impacts. So far, there's not been environmental impacts, but we are still very, very concerned about what may happen in the future.

Again, we are still in emergency phases. We still need to complete the repatriation of all guests and our crew, who is not leaving in Europe (ph). And this is, again, still our first priority.

We are working with investigators to re-understand what happened on this tragic event, and we have to inform all of you that the prosecutor has seized (ph) the ship's so-called black box, DVR (ph), containing all the data. So we have no access at this point in time for all the information that would have enabled us to understand correctly what happened. It is in the end, though, the prosecutors who are conducting the formal investigation.

As we said, we believe there has been human error here. The captain did not follow the alternate (ph) route which is used by Costa ships very frequently. There is probably more than 100 times in one year we have this route from south of the Mediterranean Sea to north of the Mediterranean Sea. And this thing is a tragic event that our security systems, our policy and procedures, all our training has never considered this to happen.

Again, as I said, the investigation is still continuing, and we cannot add more on that.

The crew, for what we have seen and understood from our initial internal investigation, behaved rightly, they behaved according to policy procedures, and on the evacuation procedures, obviously in consideration to the very serious incident that happened and the ship's condition at the time the evacuation started. More than 4,200 people have been evacuated, and we are very grateful for our crew in their boat skillness (ph), behavior, and the way they conducted themselves.

I would like to ask Daniel Rato (ph), the president of Costa, is to -- the one -- to avoid distinguishing, I'm the chairman and CEO. And in the English language, the president is sort (ph) of CEO or general manager, in other words -- who has been the scene from the very early hours on the 14th. And it's been a very, very long day, partially the night there. So perhaps he wants to add something to what I'm saying.

DANIEL RATO (ph), PRESIDENT, COSTA: To stress that the operations have been very, very, extremely difficult since the first hours. And from the first moment, the Italian Coast Guard and all the other, Italian armed forces, have been very, very cooperative and professional into limiting this tragedy. And especially we need on the (INAUDIBLE) of behalf of our cast and our crew to thank the authorities in the cities of both (INAUDIBLE), and especially east (ph) of Giglio, because they were coming in a very helpful manner all hours, both Italian and non-Italian guests, as soon as they were conducted shore side, in a very small place. And we were able to witness that. Without their support, this tragedy would have been really much more tragic than already it was.

So I think that it's very important also to stress that the way that volunteers and local communities have behaved to manage and to limit the damages of this tragedy.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Now we are ready to start with the questions we have received from many journalists connected.

Mr. Foschi, you have already some of them. And if you just can say the name of the journalist, that they address the question, so that in case he or she can understand that you are referring to their questions.

Thank you.

FOSCHI: Yes.

Unless there are any questions here in the room, so we try to address the questions via the Internet.

The first question is from Valentina Michel (ph), asking -- of course expressing the condolences for this tragedy, and then asking whether she can have more details about the captain. And she is from "Figaro" magazine.

The captain is working with us since 2002, started his career in other companies, with a long list of service. And he most recently, before joining Costa, was second captain on a cruise line. Then he joined Costa (INAUDIBLE) in 2002. He was then promoted to second captain, or staff captain. And then, from 2006, he became a captain of Costa. And he has never been involved within Costa in prior to any incident.

Another question from Greg Miller (ph) at "Trail Play" (ph), which is a shipping magazine. And the question is that, why the law requires that evacuation with passengers be performed within 24 hours from sailing time, whether this can be considered in the future, whether we can reduce this time, which is today requested by law.

It's something we are going to review, if that is the case, of course. We typically comply always with laws.

I wanted to add, in this particular case, the ship was embarking seven ports. So the people did not directly receive the drill. It was only the one boarded in Civitavecchia. All the other people who were transiting to Civitavecchia physically received the instruction and the drill. Within the people that boarded in Civitavecchia, there were a number of customers who were repeat customers, so they had already received drill information and drill training in prior cruises.

And the accident occurred three-and-a-half hours after departure time.

Mike Driscoll of "Cruise Week" is asking the same question about safety procedures for lifeboat drills. And I think I have addressed it in the prior question, the answer.

There is a question from Jennifer Lachman (ph), which is a German (INAUDIBLE). The second part of the question is why was not initial security training on the first day of the trip? I think I have addressed this question before.

The security training was done in the trip, with exception of the people that boarded in Civitavecchia. And the incident happened three-and-a-half hours after the ship sailed.

There is another question -- and plus, I wanted to add that, anyway, everybody that boards a ship, there is a video that is automatically displayed in every single cabin giving you information about lifeboat drills, which is visibly immediately when everybody boards the ship.

The other part of the question is why the other crew members not interfered when the captain made this final decisions. And we are now here in the level of command of the ship, and that the captain has the authority by law to take decisions on board. And that cannot be different, because there can be some difficult decisions to be taken depending of the weather environment, and the weather (ph) of the technical situation of the ship. In this particular case, the captain decided to change the route, and he went into water that he did not know in advance.

Chris Owen (ph) from "Cruises" (ph) asks, "We know that the crew goes through extensive training as required by maritime law. We also know the evacuation efforts were hampered by the position of the ship due to this event. Does the training include evacuation under these kinds of circumstances? Do you have plans to include training for something like this?"

"We have a variety of stories going around, some supported by evidence, others not. In your own words, what happened here?"

I mean, there's no doubt that we are always in mind safety and security. There's no doubt the entire organization's companies gear towards providing the utmost high level of training to our people in terms of policy, procedures, physical training.

Every other week, all ships do a boat drill training involving all the crew. They are of course dedicated for these circumstances.

Our own judgment in this particular case that the crew performed very well and we have to thank them again. They were able to evacuate in two hours time 4,200 people under very severe circumstances. The ship listing, in other word was inclined to a degree that did not enable us to use both side of the ship for evacuation. And the fact that the ship was so listing created a very difficult condition.

Whether we can train the people to operate in this very difficult circumstances is something that we need to think about. And not only because we need to do that, but because we need to simulate these conditions is not really easy.

Anyway, we will think about what we can -- how we can improve, if any, our training program.

Other questions?

LU STOUT: OK, we've been listening to the leadership, the CEO and chairman there of Costa Cruises speaking in Genoa addressing the aftermath of the cruise ship tragedy. He is now starting to talk again, so let's go back and listen in.

FOSCHI: ...were on board whether were nine instead of eight. We -- there were eight Belgium on board. And he's also asking whether all are in good health or not. We are referring to the authority who are in charge of that to perhaps answer his question.

Alexander Vianno (ph) reporter of the Swedish nation of (inaudible) asking whether we have any hope to find more survivors. The answer is yes, hope is still lasting to die. Are there (inaudible) Swedish passenger on the Costa Condordia boat. There are often Swedish passenger on our fleet of ships, not necessarily on the Costa Condordia.

What kind of security measure are you going to make now after this incident? Again, we believe that we are responding not only to what the law requires in terms of security, but even going way beyond what the law acquires by adopting spontaneous and policy and procedures verified and checked by outside entities in order to assure our ships are safe and secure and we are not -- we are to review what happened. But I'm not in the position today to say whether or not there will be any immediate changes.

We have not yet all the information to really understand the entire cycle of the accident because of the formation (inaudible) by the investigators, the prosecutor. So once the prosecution is completed then we have more evidence to decide to do for the future. Certainly one thing I can say that we have tried to learn for every single fact that is related to safety and security. And we do so, of course, after this tragic incident.

Then the last question there's a lot of speculation by the captain responsible for the incident. But what kind of responsibility does the shipping company that is has happened? Again, shipping company is our shipping company is very strict internal safety, internal security procedures and policies in terms of training, in terms of always remember to our people we know -- we (inaudible) and provide a whole kind of economic support, training support in other technical support in order to allow all our crew, including of course the captain, to respect and to follow and adhere to the most stringent regulation.

The captain's responsibility has been indicated by the prosecutor as - - because of the human error that was in the -- under the control of the captain.

There's a question from (inaudible), Nouvelle Servitor (ph) (inaudible) how many liters of fuel are there? Which kind of fuel? Is the failure near reservoirs a (inaudible) to stay on the boat?

So the first question is how many liters of fuel are there? There are 203 tons of fuel split between heavy fuels, the fuel that normally a cruise ship is burning. And also a reasonable quantity of gas oil for other use of the ship, for use in areas where this use of gas oil is required.

Failure is not near any water reservoir. It is in the sea. However, it is in a sea that we need to protect anyway. So we are taking whatever is necessary to avoid environmental issues.

At the command to stay on the boat, I believe the question is whether the captain leaved the ship before the conclusion of the evacuation procedures. There are speculation that he did not do that. We are unable to ascertain whether he left the ship before the conclusion of the evacuation. Some internal testimony indicates that he really tried, tried, tried to stay on board. But we have to wait the formal investigation with the prosecutor also to ascertain what is the behavior of the captain in this particular instance.

LU STOUT: All right. You've been listening to the leadership of Costa Cruises speaking live in Genoa. They were addressing the aftermath of the cruise ship tragedy which has killed at least six people. The chairman and the CEO started by saying, quote, we are really sorry for this tragic event.

He added that the company's first priority was to take account of all people and crew and to secure the vessel to prevent any environmental impact. He mentioned just then that there are about 203 tons of fuel there.

The CEO of Costa Cruises also reiterated that the company believes it was human error and that the captain did not follow the authorized route.

Now the CEO also said that he was, quote, grateful for the crew for the way they conducted themselves, a line that will be sure to raise eyebrows of some survivors who have appeared here on CNN and have described chaos and a crew that was not prepared for this event.

Now the ship again it ran aground off the coast of Giglio, Italy Friday night. Six people are dead, 16 people are still missing. The rescue operation has been suspended.

Now many questions remain about how this all happened and how the Condordia ran aground. Let's bring in Malcolm Latarche from CNN London. He is the editor of the Maritime magazine IHS Fairplay Solutions. And he joins us now.

And know that you were listening to that press conference just then. I first wanted to get your reaction to how the CEO of Costa Cruises is managing and handling this disaster.

MALCOLM LATARCHE, EDITOR, IHS FAIRPLAY SOLUTIONS: From a point of fact of what the actual physical things now, it won't be down to Costa, it will be down to the Italian authorities. They will be running the show now.

I suppose Costa's job is to help find out and assist the authorities in the best way they can find out what's happened.

LU STOUT: OK. Now the CEO of Costa Cruises, he reiterated that human error is to blame for this accident. Do you agree with that assessment?

LATARCHE: Well, I think that must be what is the obvious conclusion at this moment. If the captain was taken a course that was not authorized, that wasn't the official route that the ship should be taking, there are some very serious questions as to why that would be.

LU STOUT: There were also some questions about whether a power blackout is to blame for this disaster. Your thoughts?

LATARCHE: Well, initially I think a lot of people, including myself, felt that would -- could have been the case. We were looking for a situation where everybody had behaved in a way -- in a way that you would expect a professional ship's crew to behave and a professional shipping company to run their ship. This is a very modern ship. There are problems that can occur on any ship, but when we first -- the information first came out, we obviously everybody felt that given a professional running a professional ship what would happen shouldn't have happened.

LU STOUT: And just now the CEO of Costa Cruises mentioned that they have access to the black box, all access to information for the investigation. Can you give us an idea of what is embedded inside the black box and what investigators are likely to learn?

LATARCHE: Well, the black box, or the voyage data recorder on a ship, receives -- takes in information from the navigation system of the ship, from the engines, from the course that's being steered, from weather instrumentation -- wind speed, direction et cetera -- it takes all that in to consideration, all the information as to what instructions were given, what courses were steered, and it also includes a voice recording of the bridge.

LU STOUT: And also just wanted to get your reaction, something else that came out of this press conference that is still underway in Genoa by the leadership of Costa Cruises. The CEO and chair, he said he was grateful for the crew for the way that they handled the situation and evacuated the thousands of passengers and individuals on board. And that seems to be in conflict with what we've been hearing from survivors and eyewitnesses here on CNN. And I want to get your thought on whether you thought the moments after the ship ran aground if there was an adequate response and whether the staff were adequately trained.

LATARCHE: Well, all -- on a cruise ship every person in the crew has a dual role. They hope their normal duties to perform, whether they be engineers, navigators, entertainers, cooks, stewards, the whole lot they all have those duties and they all have special duties to perform in the case of an emergency.

You probably heard over the weekend about how some people are saying, oh, the people helping us onto the lifeboats were the same waiters and -- that we've just been serving us at dinner. Well, that would be quite normal. That would be what would happen in these cases.

The professional (inaudible) and the engineers on board will be needed to undertake emergency work on the ship. And it will -- a lot of the role of helping people to the evacuations and to the master stations, getting them on the lifeboats, helping disabled people will fall to people like entertainers and cooks and that sort of thing.

Now...

LU STOUT: Now, and of course -- go on.

LATARCHE: Yeah, I was just say, every one of those has to undergo basic training before they're allowed a certificate to be a crew person, or a crew member on board. So there is that.

There are initial pictures of people queuing at lifeboat stations and quite calm manner. And I can understand that people as the situation worsens, those that are left on the ship, will become desperate or panic stricken and sometimes, while it's understandable, it's human behavior, that you have to look at how much the passengers do help themselves in some cases and hinder the operation by -- by, I wouldn't call it selfish acts, but acts of self preservation.

LU STOUT: Malcolm, understood.

And thank you for reminding us that we really have to wait to see and to get a full picture of what happened as you wait to get information from the black box as well as hear testimony from the crew members themselves who are on board. We're going to have to wrap it up there, but thank you very much for joining us and walking us through what happened, what can happen next.

That's Malcolm Latarche, editor of the global shipping magazine IHS. Thank you very much for that.

And coming up next here on News Stream, the human migration of more than 3 billion people will travel during the Chinese New Year holiday. And we'll tell you how China's transport system is coping with the rush. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LU STOUT: Welcome back.

And to Nigeria now where there are major developments concerning the country's fuel crisis.

Now earlier today Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan said he would cut fuel costs to 60 cents a liter. But the unions rejected that. And now they are calling for the protests to be suspended.

Now CNN's Nima Elbagir joins me now live from Lagos, Nigeria. And Nima, what is the situation there. Is there a suspension? And if so, will it hold?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIOANL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there definitely is a suspension and perhaps a glimmer of respite for Nigerians. The government this morning in the president's address to the nation climbed down from 141 naira a liter to 97 naira a liter, that's about 60 cents. It's still more than the 65 naira, the 40 cents that unions have been holding out for. They have not yet announced if they're going to accept this offer, but for now they've said they're suspending the strike.

With the carrot of the climb down to 97 naira a liter that Jonathan extended this morning, he also brandished a pretty big stick, Kristie, that was some pretty intensive deployment of military, a heavy police presence. Some protesters complain that they were not allowed to move into the predesignated rallying points. And it does seem like the Nigerian government was making a point. We've stepped down. We've compromised for now, but don't push us any further, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Is President Goodluck Jonathan relying on military might to continue to block the return of a fuel subsidy? What is the security presence look like in the street in Lagos and across Nigeria?

ELBAGIR: Well, we weren't allowed to film it. We were told by the army in no uncertain terms that they will not be filmed by camera crews. They were -- it was a very intensive presence. There was major deployment. There were checkpoints. Lagos is a series of islands, so in all of the -- there would be entry and exit points to the bridges, cars were stopped and searched. They said that they feel like the fuel subsidy, and indeed the protests are being hijacked for political ends. And they say that this isn't about a democratic means to an end, that this is becoming incredibly political and they say -- Goodluck Jonathan himself indeed said that they will deal severely with any attempts to increase insecurity in Nigeria, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Quite a sight there.

Nima Elbagir joining us live from Lagos. Thank you very much for that.

Now let's move on to China where millions are preparing to travel home for the annual lunar new year holiday. And each year, many struggle to buy a train ticket in the crush of commuters. So the Chinese government launched a new online ticketing system to help ease congestion. But as Eunice Yoon reports, for some it's only added to the travel troubles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EUNICE YOON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Across China, a massive humanity is on the move crowding into stations and airports, all anxious to go home for the nation's most important holiday.

What you're seeing now is the largest movement of people anywhere on the planet. We're heading toward the Chinese new year one hundreds of millions of people who work in the big cities make the grand exodus to their hometowns to see their families.

With so many people traveling at once, getting tickets has always been a challenge. But for those not quite a part of modern China this year has been especially difficult, creating a lot of anger among the country's migrant worker class.

It all started with what was supposed to be a positive change. The government decided to upgrade the train ticketing system, allowing people to book their tickets online for the first time.

But in the minds of many laborers, like Qin Yun, the web site gives preferential treatment to tech savvy, white collar workers.

"It's not really fair. Most migrant workers don't know how to go online," he says. "All we can do is come here and wait."

Qin queues for hours every day, hoping to snag tickets to he and his wife can travel 2,000 kilometers, over 1,200 miles, to their village in southwest china. They want to see their two children who they only visit once a year.

"It's as if we're strangers to our children when we go home," he says.

For many of these people this is the only time of year that they can go home. Many of them have left husbands, wives, and children, and some of them haven't been back in two to three years.

The desperate need to see family isn't the only reason the ticketing change has become class warfare. The nation's poor are growing frustrated with the wide gap between the haves and the have nots. China's leaders have vowed to solve the problem, but it's not moving quickly enough for people here.

Qin already told his children their parents would be home for the holidays. He hopes they won't be disappointed.

"No tickets," he says.

Qin says he'll be back in line tomorrow. So for now, his children will have to wait.

Eunice Yoon, CNN, Beijing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LU STOUT: Now let's put into perspective just how many people will be traveling over this holiday period. Now Xinhua says over 3 billion passenger trips are expected over the 40 day period from January 8. Now that is more than twice as many passenger trips as (inaudible) in an entire year.

Now still to come here on News Stream, we'll be getting the latest from the Australia Open in Melbourne where the former world number one Roger Federer is bidding for his 17th grand slam title. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LU STOUT: Welcome back.

It's time for a sport update. And it is a great day for tennis fans around the world as the first grand slam tournament of the year is underway Down Under. And Don Riddell joins us live from London with more -- Don.

DON RIDDELL, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Kristie.

Caroline Wozniacki has a major point to prove at the Australian Open. The Danish tennis star has been the world number one for over a year now, but she still hasn't won a grand slam tournament. Earlier today she made a winning start in her latest quest for a major title. She beat the Australian Anastasia Rodionova in straight says 6-2, 6-1.

Wozniacki also demonstrated that she's recovered from the wrist injury she taped up recently.

Of course Wozniacki wants to go all the way here in Melbourne, but she must get to at least the fourth round if she wants to keep her world number one ranking.

Depending on how things go, any one of five other players could actually topple her from the top of the rankings by the end of this tournament. Victoria Azarenka is one of them. And the third seed breezed through her opening match on Center Court earlier today, thrashing Britain's Heather Watson 6-1, 6-0.

Watson took the first game, but Azarenka flattened her after that, winning the next 12, closing it all out in just 67 minutes.

Azarenka is on great form. She won the Sydney International last week and is hoping to keep the momentum going and capture her first grand slam title here in Melbourne.

No real surprises today.

In the men's draw, Roger Federer began the quest for his 17th grand slam title with a straight sets win over the Russian qualifier Alexandre Kudryavtev, winning his first round match 7-5, 6-2, 6-2. Federer hasn't won a slam since the Aussie Open here two years ago. However he would love to win a fifth major at Melbourne Park.

Rafa Nadal is also through to the second round, but the Spanish world number two has had a new injury scare. Rafa romped to a straight sets win over Alex Kuznetsov, but he did so with a heavily strapped knee. Nadal says that he heard a crack in his knee while he was watching television in his hotel room. An MRI scan revealed that there was no major damage, but he said it was unbelievably painful.

Kristie, we'll have much more on the tennis and all the other day's sports news for you in world sport. We're on air in about three hours time. See you soon.

LU STOUT: All right. Good stuff. Don take care.

And that is News Stream, but the news continues at CNN. World Business Today is next.

END