Passengers stranded as Cypriot airline goes bust

In this file photo, an Airbus A320-232 plane from Cypriot carrier Cobalt comes into land at Larnaca Airport, southern Cyprus on Aug. 17, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 18 October 2018

Passengers stranded as Cypriot airline goes bust

  • Cobalt Air said it was canceling all flights from shortly before midnight “due to indefinite suspension of Cobalt’s operations”
  • Cobalt’s grounding comes just two weeks after Latvia-based Primera Air filed for bankruptcy and a month since Belgian airline Skyworks took the same course

LARNACA, Cyprus: Cyprus said Thursday it will pay to ensure hundreds of Cobalt Air passengers stranded on the holiday island can return home safely after the sudden collapse of the low-cost carrier.
In a surprise announcement posted on its website late Wednesday, the airline said it was canceling all flights from shortly before midnight “due to indefinite suspension of Cobalt’s operations.”
It warned customers its offices would no longer be staffed and urged them to seek refunds through their credit card company or travel agent.
Cobalt’s grounding comes just two weeks after Latvia-based Primera Air filed for bankruptcy and a month since Belgian airline Skyworks took the same course.
The airline was launched only two years ago, filling the void to become the Mediterranean island’s biggest carrier after state-owned Cyprus Airways went bankrupt in January 2015.
Employing many pilots from the defunct national carrier, it went on to operate 13-15 flights daily, taking up to 3,000 passengers to 23 destinations including Athens, Beirut, Heathrow, Paris and Tel Aviv.
But late on Wednesday night, its website was abruptly replaced with a single-page statement announcing the cancelation of all of its flights from 23:50 pm.
Its last flight was reportedly in the air on the way back to Larnaca from London at the time.
“As a result, future flights or services provided by Cobalt will be canceled and will no longer operate,” the statement said, without elaborating on the reasons.
The airline advised passengers with tickets against going to Larnaca International Airport or attempting to contact its offices “as no Cobalt flights will operate and no Cobalt staff will be present.”
“We sincerely apologize once again and would like to thank our very loyal customers for their support over the last two years of Cobalt operations.”
Nine flights had been scheduled to arrive and nine to depart from Larnaca airport on Thursday.
Hundreds of passengers were left stranded, although it was not immediately clear exactly how many.
Airport authorities said there was no panic in the departures hall, with passengers appearing to have stayed away after learning about the airline’s fate and the flight cancelations.
On Thursday the Cypriot transport minister emerged from an emergency meeting on the situation to say everything would be done to minimize the inconvenience for those stuck in Cyprus and abroad.
Vassiliki Anastassiadou said Cyprus would cover the cost for passengers to return home up until October 24, while adding that this did not absolve the airline of its liabilities toward customers.
“The cost of the tickets will be covered by the state for repatriation purposes only,” the minister told reporters.
“We... feel the need to help passengers trapped either in Cyprus or abroad who want to return to their place of residence.”
Two travel operators on the island had been instructed to manage the repatriations and issue tickets on other airlines.
Anastassiadou described the situation as “regrettable” as it comes at time Cyprus is enjoying a surge in its vital tourism sector with arrivals in 2018 expected to exceed last year’s high of 3.6 million.
The minister confirmed the airline was struggling but had informed authorities it was looking for funding.
“It seems they were not able to do this, but we had also given Cobalt a deadline of October 22 to present its financial situation,” she said.
Officials told the state-funded Cyprus News Agency that Cobalt had accumulated tens of millions of dollars in debt since its first commercial flight in July 2016.
Other reports put the debt at around 100 million euros ($115 million).
They said Cobalt had ceased operations after failing to reach a deal with a potential European investor to help it pay for leasing its six aircraft — two Airbus 319s and four Airbus 320s.
Reportedly, the company had only 15 million euros left in its accounts, which it needed to pay its 200-air crew and 50 ground staff.
There was speculation that it was facing cash-flow problems after two of its aircraft were grounded for two days.
Although Cobalt refused to comment on the rumors, sources within the company reportedly attributed the liquidity problems to difficulties faced by Chinese investors in exporting capital due to Chinese government restrictions.
The airline’s largest shareholder is AJ Cyprus, with 49 percent of the shares. AJ Cyprus is owned by China’s AVIC Joy Air.
Cyprus is a hugely popular holiday hotspot for Britons — with over a million flying to the island each year.


Afghan president vows to crush Daesh after deadly Kabul wedding strike

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani attends a state ceremony for the Afghan Independence Day in Kabul on Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 20 August 2019

Afghan president vows to crush Daesh after deadly Kabul wedding strike

  • ‘We have collapsed from the inside,’ says attack survivor

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed to wipe out Daesh, after a deadly attack on a wedding party in Kabul killed more than 60 people. The suicide bombing also injured 200 others late on Saturday evening.
Ghani, whose government is facing intense criticism for failing to deter attacks by sympathizers of Daesh and the Taliban, also announced the postponement of 100th anniversary celebrations of the country’s independence from Britain that were due to take place.
“We will eliminate Daesh hideouts all around the country … the fight against Daesh will be intensified,” Ghani said during a brief state ceremony to mark independence, even though formal festivities were put on hold.
The government had allocated millions of dollars and set aside two years for planning the event. “We postponed celebrations to honor the victims, but we will take the revenge of our people,” he added.
Daesh claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack, which happened while guests and family members of the bride and groom were in segregated halls for men and women.
Most of the victims were Shiite and ethnic Hazaras. Daesh considers them to be heretics and has targeted them in recent years.
“I think many of us are merely alive by appearance and physically. Mentally, we are all dead. We have collapsed from the inside,” Zaman Shah, a 25-year-old survivor who lost three brothers in the attack, told Arab News.
The bomber blew himself up in the men’s hall. The groom was with the bride in the women’s section and survived, but both lost at least 25 family members.
Six children from one family perished. Other families lost loved ones too.
“I lost two of my brothers and four nephews, life has no meaning for me anymore,” Ahmad Fawad told reporters. “Postponing the independence anniversary will not cure our grief, this government is weak and useless and cannot protect people.”
Hasmat Hussien, another survivor, lost eight close members of his family and relatives in the attack. “We do not know why this calamity has befallen us. You cannot understand or comprehend our grief, misery and pain. We have not managed to sleep or eat for nearly two days now,” he said.
Amir Mohammad a 50-year-old man whose son died and had two others wounded in the attack, said: “Life has become meaningless for my family. These people who were targeted were poor, ordinary civilians, not government authorities or generals.”
The suicide bombing took place even as the US and the Taliban near a peace deal that could eventually lead to the complete withdrawal of foreign troops and end decades of conflict.
The Taliban, for its part, has pledged not to allow any group to use Afghanistan for attacks against any country.
“The US is making a peace deal with the Taliban, but we fear Daesh will be the next group that will expand its activities and there will be fighting for an uncertain future,” Kabul shopkeeper Rahim Dad said. “There will be peace with one group, but war with another. That means we won’t have peace, even if America and the Taliban make peace,” he added.
Ghani blamed the Taliban for the attack, saying it had given rise to extremist networks such as Daesh.
The Taliban, whose fighters have battled Daesh in some parts of the country, condemned the attack and showed sympathy with the victims.
US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has led the US side in peace talks with the Taliban since last year, tweeted Sunday that it was time to step up efforts to end fighting.
But the peace talks have faltered, mostly because the Taliban refuses to engage with Ghani’s government.
“We condemn Daesh (Daesh) and yesterday’s heinous attack on a Kabul wedding hall that killed scores of innocent Afghan families,” Khalilzad tweeted. “We must accelerate the #AfghanPeaceProcess including intra-Afghan negotiations. Success here will put Afghans in a much stronger position to defeat Daesh.”
There was tight security in major cities as thousands of Afghans poured onto the streets to mark the 100th independence anniversary.
But blasts in the eastern city of Jalalabad disrupted the day. Officials said at least 50 people were wounded. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blasts in the city, parts of which have been a Daesh bastion.