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Obama Authorizes Non-Lethal Aid to Ukraine Military; Poor Visibility Hampers South Korean Ferry Rescue; Costs Add Up in MH-370 Search; Pro-Russian Activists Attack Ukrainian Military Base; Answering Viewer Questions About MH-370.

Aired April 17, 2014 - 11:30   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we have breaking news on the crisis in Ukraine. Just moments ago, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the president has authorized sending non-lethal aid to the Ukrainian military. Non-lethal aid to the Ukraine military. Now, this comes after a few days that have frankly been embarrassing for the Ukrainian military and their troops as those troops tried unsuccessfully in some cases to dislodge some pro-Russia militants from towns in the eastern Ukraine, even losing control in some cases of military vehicles. The Ukrainian troops unwilling or unable to do what it takes to move those militia members out. Again, though, the news just now, the president has authorized sending some non-lethal aid to the Ukrainian military. We'll have a live report from Ukraine on what this all means and the ramifications in just a few minutes.

Another big story we're following right now, poor visibility hampering the search for almost 300 people, many of them high school students, missing after a ferry sank off the coast of South Korea. Crews are injecting oxygen into the ship's hull to perhaps prolong the lives of any survivors. Officials now say there is a high possibility that the ferry capsized because it shifted off of its planned route, and they're now looking into a report that only one of the 46 lifeboats on this ship actually deployed.

According to one survivor, passengers were urged not to escape.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): Put your safety vest on and stay put, as it's dangerous, kept announcing it about 10 times so kids were forced to stay put. So only some of those who moved survived.


BERMAN: One of those survivors is the captain, seen earlier today hiding his face. He made it off. Again, with only one lifeboat, and new questions are swirling around how he did manage to escape.

Several survivors said they managed to get out by jumping into the frigid water or crawling on the outside of the upended ferry. In doing so, they ignored commands shouted over the ship's loudspeaker.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): Don't move. If you move, it is more dangerous. Don't move.


All right. Joining us now on the phone is Kim Petersen. He's the governor emeritus of the nonprofit Maritime Security Council and president of Security Dynamics.

And, Kim, there seems to be a contradiction here. There are some people who say the safest place to be on a ship is in the vessel or near the vessel. Yet, we saw, again, with this disaster that those who did jump off, those who fled as soon as they could, they seemed to be the ones to survive. So the question is, what's the right decision?

KIM PETERSEN, GOVERNOR EMERITUS, MARITIME SECURITY COUNCIL & PRESIDENT, SECURITY DYNAMICS (voice-over): Well, it's very difficult to determine what actually happened and the time line associated with those commands from the bridge. Some reports from survivors indicated that they were told to stay put up until the time that the vessel began to slide onto her side. Bear in mind, the captain's first duty is to protect his passenger and crew. If the captain felt that the vessel was in peril but stable, it may have been proper to calm the passengers in order to prevent panic-driven action. That having been said, however, the subsequent actions by the captain and the fact now Coast Guard officials are saying that he may face criminal investigation for his actions on the ship leads one to wonder whether or not the proper procedures were being followed.

BERMAN: Kim, I have a lot of questions about the captain which we want to get to in a minute. First, let me break down this issue of when to stay seated, when to flee. When would it be right to stay in your seats, not to move if there's problems on the ship?

PETERSEN: Well, if the vessel is stable and if the captain and the crew have determined that there is time to bring people to their muster stations where they would congregate. On the other hand, if the vessel is in peril of sinking before you could actually get people to muster stations or ready the lifeboats to go over the side, then obviously passengers have to take it upon themselves, working with crew, and find a safe means of egress you the water and away from a sinking ship.

BERMAN: Apparently, it didn't work and they weren't able to get off as quickly as possible. What do you make of the fact that only one of the lifeboats seemed to deploy?

PETERSEN: There is some confusion on that point. We are hearing from some sources in South Korea that two lifeboats actually were deployed. But still, given the number that were on board and those -- the number on board had to meet the requirements for in excess of 180 passengers, there appears to be something seriously wrong. Again, we can only speculate at this time, and there are a lot of questions. For example, what caused this vessel to sink as rapidly as it did?

BERMAN: In this area of what we don't know and what we do know, the one thing we do know, Kim, is that the captain survived. And whether there was one lifeboat or two, there were more than 40 that did not deploy. There are still over 270 people still missing. One of them is not the captain. And I think there are a lot of people asking how. How did the captain escape and so many other people did not?

PETERSEN: Well, that's something that a lot of people are asking questions about right now. The captain's name is Captain Lee Jeun Suk. He's 69 years old. It's interesting that he was filling in for the regular captain who was on leave. Captain Lee has been on the water for 40 years. There are numerous accounts reporting that he was the one of the first to be pulled from the water despite the fact that no one saw when he left the ship.

BERMAN: It will be one of the questions that people are asking for some time, until there is an explanation given. Also, as you say, we still need a further explanation about what might have caused the sink to ship so quickly, right now, because of the possibility that it veered off course.

Kim Petersen, thank you so much for joining us, helping to explain what went on on the board.

Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, the long search for flight 370 comes with a high, high price tag. How high exactly? What's the estimated cost? And who exactly is paying? That's next.


BERMAN: 41 days since flight 370 vanished, and the search is on still for the 239 missing people on board. What happened to them? What happened to the plane? That, of course, such an important question. But it does come at a cost. A financial cost. 21 nations, 80 ships, 61 aircraft scouring a vast section of the Indian Ocean, plus, now the unmanned U.S. sub that is searching the ocean floor. No doubt these costs are adding up. So let's talk about them.

Our Erin McLaughlin is back with us in Perth, Australia. "Bloomberg" managing editor, Tom Giles, joins us from Washington.

Erin, let's start with you.

What number are you hearing from the Australians right now about how much this is costing?

ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Well, it's pricey. The chief of the Australian Transportation and Safety Board telling CNN that it's estimated that a prolonged underwater search-and- recovery effort will cost around a quarter of a billion dollars. And that doesn't even include the search for debris. Every day they've been deploying around a dozen ships and a dozen planes to scour the oceans for any signs of MH-370. They have found nothing so far, but that's estimated to cost in the tens of millions of dollars. Now, Angus Houston, the man responsible for coordinating this multinational effort, has been asked time and time again about that price tag. He has been loath to put a specific price on it all, but he acknowledges that this is expensive. So far, none of the countries involved balking at any of this cost -- John?

BERMAN: Well, obviously there are many countries involved, Tom. So how does it get split up? Who exactly is paying here?

TOM GILES, MANAGING EDITOR, BLOOMBERG: Right. We think Australia is bearing a big brunt of this, at least half based on estimates that we've seen so far. U.S. is in there a lot. They've put their number out so far at under $10 million so far, which seems like a small amount of money. But when you think about the number of countries involved, China's in there. We know vote -- Vietnam is in there. Lots of countries involved, lots of ships, as Erin mentioned. So the cost is being distributed over many different countries with Australia bearing the brunt, we think, so far.

BERMAN: Everyone wants to find this for the families of the people on board, but there are serious technical questions here.

To, Tom, I'm sure Boeing wants to know what caused this flight to go down. There's every reason to invest in this search for a lot of the parties involved. Isn't that correct, Tom?

GILES: Sure. Nobody more than China right now, which, as you know, has --most of the passengers were Chinese nationals. So China has a very vested interest. Sure, Boeing, Malaysia Airlines, U.S., absolutely, there were U.S. citizens on board, and we want to be part of the search. It's absolutely of utmost urgency for so many people involved this far out. Remember, Air France, the flight that went down in 2009, that took two years, and we think the cost there was upwards of $100 million. So it does look like the cost this time is going to be much higher than that. But there's no question, I mean, people are not sitting there going, yeah, we can't believe how much this is costing. We aren't questioning the validity of it. People want to know what happened here, and we're not going to find out those answers until we find that black box.

BERMAN: And quickly, Tom, do you see the price tag becoming an obstacle at some point, or do you think they will spend what they have to spend to try to find this plane?

GILES: I think the countries involved here are going to spend what they have to do. This is of utmost urgency, and no expense is going to be spared.

BERMAN: Erin McLaughlin, Tom Giles, great to have you with us. The search does continue.

Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, the unrest in Ukraine. More than 300 pro- Russian separatists attack a military base in a southeastern city. We will have the details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BERMAN: We have some breaking news to report right now on the situation in Ukraine. Just minutes ago, secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, said that President Obama has signed off on sending more non- lethal aid to the Ukrainian military.





BERMAN: These, obviously, sounds of gunfire heard earlier this morning in Ukraine. A gang of some 300 pro-Russian activists attacked a military base. Ukrainian soldiers opened fire, killing three attackers. And now Kiev is not allowing Russian men age 16 to 60 to come across the border. Ukrainian, Russian and Western diplomats are holding emergency talks in Switzerland. And Russian President Vladimir Putin says all parties need to figure out how to get out of this situation. Though a lot of people would say it is largely up to him.

Our Nick Paton Walsh is at a pro-Ukrainian rally right now. He joins us on the phone from Donetsk in Ukraine.

So, Nick, this is a pro-Ukrainian rally. We haven't seen a huge number of them in the east. Tell me what you're seeing on the ground right now.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Given the threat that people think may be posed against this rally, and there's a lot of riot police standing around them, it's quite a reasonable turnout. I'd say 2,000 to 3,000, putting up signs saying no to civil war. A lot of the crowd younger, more Western orientation and, of course, calmer. There's no anger really amongst these people. A sense of disappointment that their government hasn't been able to stop what they call the potential for a Russian invasion.

One key difference here, though -- and I think this is to prevent anybody from pointing the finger of blame later -- not one of the policemen here is carrying a weapon. They have riot shields and sticks but no guns. One man next to me with an empty holster here. But clearly there is a fear something could go wrong and I think they want to be absolutely sure that there's no way it can be blamed on the police here -- John?

BERMAN: Nick, do you have the since the demonstrators have the will or the wherewithal to stand up to the pro-Russian militants that seemed to wreak so much havoc over last few days?

WALSH: Not this crowd, certainly. In fact, they're marked by how calm they are and their admission that they accept the minority. They accept they don't have the majority here, and they think those pro- Russians in the area may be able to have their way. The will for these people is for their government to keep their government together by some authority here and perhaps how this turned this particular moment. But a lot of anger towards Putin here as well and behind much of this as the United States and NATO do as well. I think given their calm calculated position we saw on Putin on Russian television, they have reason to be worried this is part of a broader Moscow strategy for this region -- John?

BERMAN: Some Ukrainians have seized Russian citizens, as many as 40 that have been acting out? Any thoughts on that?

WALSH: There have been reports suggesting the Ukrainians security have taken those who had provocation and causing unrest here. It's hard to verify that because there's so much happening from both sides and hurting both's credibility in many ways. Certainly, most people you speak to in this crowd think there is a broader Russian strategy at work here. You have to say, when you hang out with these pro- Russian protesters, when they let you, when they're friendly enough for that to happen, it's always staggering that they're well disciplined, well armed, top-notch firepower strapped around their shoulders and has to come from somewhere other than local activists who have been together for a few weeks -- John?

BERMAN: Certainly seem to be dictating the pace of actions in that part of the country. And this, leaders meeting in Geneva trying to find a peaceful way out. We have no report of any progress at this time.

Nick Paton Walsh on the ground in Donetsk at a pro-Ukrainian rally. Great to have him there.

Ahead for us @ THIS HOUR, some viewers asking if officials can rule out the possibility that flight 370 actually landed somewhere. This is a question that keeps coming up. Our experts will respond, next.


BERMAN: More than 40 days now with no sign of flight 370, searchers are hoping the Bluefin 21, the sub, will find something as it scours the ocean floor. We're waiting for more information from the Bluefin.

In the meantime, we're going to answer your questions, because so many people have questions. Our aviation analyst, Jeff Wise, is here with us; along with Steven Wallace, the director of accident investigations at the FAA.

The first question, Steven, is an interesting one. We have so few hard facts about this plane. There is one. One viewer writes, when the story first broke, there was a video showing this plane striking the fin of another plane with its wing tip. This damaged both the fin and the wing tip. Could this repair on this plane have caused a cascade of failures that ultimately led to this plane's disappearance?

STEVEN WALLACE, DIRECTOR OF ACCIDENT INVESTIGATIONS, FAA & COMMERCIAL PILOT: It's a good question to ask and asked in every investigation. We have a group of people look at the maintenance records. There was a terrible accident in 1985 with a 7-year-old repair from Japan where an aft pressure bulkhead failed and caused the depressurization of the airplane. This highly unlikely, talking about a wing tip hitting another wing tip or term, in aviation, there's a term called hangar rash, unfortunate things that happen on the ground and they're very, very costly but you can repair an airplane now just good as new. Typically these repairs, as good as new, very unlikely.

BERMAN: Yeah, what was wrong with the plane? Was there anything wrong, one of the first questions asked, and going over the history is key.

Jeff Wise, there's another question right now. I know it's one of your favorites that everyone seems to be asking: Has there been one absolutely positive piece of evidence to prove this plane crashed into the Indian Ocean or anywhere else? A variation is a possible landing out of question at this point.

JEFF WISE, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: There's really not. Once the plane disappeared from radar, we don't know what happened to it. They released this piece of evidence at 8:11 a.m., appears this plane was on a certain arc, part of which in the north and the south. Beyond that, we really don't know, don't know what route it took or how fast it was flying. And at this point -- subsequently, they released a report via Malaysian authorities that said they had done a special kind of new analysis, based upon which they said it was more likely that it was in the south. They themselves never explicitly said it has to be only in the south. I think, if over the coming week or so, we don't find physical evidence on the seabed, then I think there will be a lot of pressure on the Malaysians on Inmarsat to really show their work why we think this.

BERMAN: It's still possible in your mind it could be somewhere in the northern arc?

WISE: We have to -- even if we assume it's in the south, we want to know why do we believe this? We've gotten so used to assuming it's in the south, we've gotten out of the habit of why we think it's in the south.

BERMAN: Might be part of the assessment.

Jeff Wise and Steven, thank you so much for being with us. We really do appreciate it.

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