At least 10 dead as fire rages on Black Sea ships

Smoke rises from a fire at a ship in the Kerch Strait near Crimea on Monday, January 21. (Reuters)
Updated 22 January 2019

At least 10 dead as fire rages on Black Sea ships

  • Twelve people were rescued from the burning vessels but there was little hope of finding any more survivors
  • The strait connects both Russian and Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea to the Black Sea

MOSCOW: Ten crew died and another 10 were missing presumed dead in a fire that broke out on two ships while they were transferring fuel in the Black Sea, Russia’s Transport Ministry said on Tuesday.
The vessels which caught fire on Monday have the same names as two Tanzania-flagged ships, the Maestro and Venice, which last year were included on a US sanctions advisory as delivering fuel to Syria.
Twelve people were rescued from the burning vessels but there was little hope of finding any more survivors, a spokesman for the Transport Ministry’s maritime unit said. The focus had switched from a rescue operation to a search for bodies, he added.
The spokesman said the vessels, which had a combined crew of 32, were still on fire and rough no attempts were being made to put out the blaze because of rough sea conditions.
Russian maritime officials said on Monday that the vessels were carrying out a ship-to-ship transfer of fuel in the Kerch Strait, which separates Crimea from Russia.
On Nov. 20 last year, the US Treasury Department added nine Russian and Iranian individuals and companies on its sanctions list for participating in the shipment of petroleum to Syria.
It also issued an advisory note warning of the potential sanctions risk for any entities involved in such shipments which listed 35 ships, including the Maestro and Venice, as having delivered oil to Syria between 2016 and 2018.
Reuters reported in December that both the Maestro and Venice continued operations after the Treasury announcement, and regularly entered Crimea’s Temryuk port, according to Refinitiv data.
In the port, liquefied petroleum gas of Russian and Kazakh origin is transferred onto tankers for export, via the Kerch Strait.
The strait, between Russian-annexed Crimea and southern Russia, connects both Russian and Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea to the Black Sea.
In November, Russia detained three Ukrainian navy vessels and their crews in the vicinity of the strait, fueling tensions between the two countries. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.


Taliban talks resume amid hopes of deal

Updated 22 August 2019

Taliban talks resume amid hopes of deal

  • The disclosure came in a context of ongoing bloodshed in Afghanistan after NATO said two US military personnel were killed Wednesday
  • Washington is hoping to strike an agreement with the Taliban by September 1 — ahead of Afghan polls due the same month

DOHA: The US and the Taliban met in Doha on Thursday, an American source close to the talks said, for potentially decisive dialogue to allow Washington to drawdown militarily in Afghanistan.
The source said the talks started around 1300 GMT — the ninth time the two foes have met face-to-face.
The disclosure came in a context of ongoing bloodshed in Afghanistan after NATO said two US military personnel were killed Wednesday, blasts rocked Jalalabad Monday, and the death toll from a weekend wedding bombing reached 80.
Washington’s top commander in Afghanistan General Scott Miller was at the talks venue, according to an AFP correspondent.
The US, which invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban in 2001, wants to withdraw thousands of troops but only in return for the insurgent group renouncing Al-Qaeda and curbing attacks.
Washington is hoping to strike an agreement with the Taliban by September 1 — ahead of Afghan polls due the same month, and US presidential polls due in 2020.
Taliban lead negotiator Abbas Stanikzai told AFP Thursday that overall talks had been “going well.”
The talks are expected to focus on establishing a timeline for the US withdrawal of its more than 13,000 troops in Afghanistan.
“We’ve been there for 18 years, it’s ridiculous,” US President Donald Trump told reporters Tuesday.
“We are negotiating with the government and we are negotiating with the Taliban,” he said.
“We have good talks going and we will see what happens.”
But the thorny issues of power-sharing with the Taliban, the role of regional powers including Pakistan and India, and the fate of Afghanistan’s incumbent administration remain unresolved.
US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad sought to bolster optimism for a peace agreement last week when he said in a tweet that he hoped this is the final year that the country is at war.