$15.5bn Gulf rail project: Overseeing body on way

Updated 28 December 2013

$15.5bn Gulf rail project: Overseeing body on way

ABU DHABI: Construction of a $15.5 billion rail network linking the six Gulf states will start late next year and an overseeing authority for the project is being set up, an adviser said.
The joint project is to develop a railway network linking Oman in the south to Kuwait in the north through the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Progress has been held up by bureaucratic and technical obstacles, but if the railway is completed, it could have a major impact on the Gulf economy by stimulating trade and limiting consumption of fuel for road travel.
Detailed engineering and design (DED) work will be completed by late 2013 or early 2014, with construction to follow, Ramiz Al-Assar, the World Bank’s resident adviser to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretariat, told a conference organized by MEED, a business information company.
A GCC authority to oversee the project is being established after it was recently approved by national ministers of transport and finance, he said.
“Some key milestones have been achieved and we are targeting for the project to be fully operational in 2018,” he said.
GCC countries will build their parts of the railway on their own; the UAE and Saudi Arabia have begun their construction work while other countries will start shortly, he added.
Oman has begun preliminary design on its rail project.
Meanwhile, the contract to study a proposal for a new causeway linking Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, part of the GCC rail project, will be awarded next month and the study is scheduled to be completed in 2014, he said.
“This is an important strategic project in the scheme.”


Tanker off UAE sought by US over Iran sanctions ‘hijacked’

Updated 16 July 2020

Tanker off UAE sought by US over Iran sanctions ‘hijacked’

  • The circumstances of the hijack are still unclear and the boat has been tracked to Iranian waters

DUBAI: An oil tanker sought by the US over allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran was hijacked on July 5 off the coast of the UAE, a seafarers organization said Wednesday.

Satellite photos showed the vessel in Iranian waters on Tuesday and two of its sailors remained in the Iranian capital.

It wasn’t immediately clear what happened aboard the Dominica-flagged MT Gulf Sky, though its reported hijacking comes after months of tensions between Iran and the US

David Hammond, the CEO of the United Kingdom-based group Human Rights at Sea, said he took a witness statement from the captain of the MT Gulf Sky, confirming the ship had been hijacked.

Hammond said that 26 of the Indian sailors on board had made it back to India, while two remained in Tehran, without elaborating.

“We are delighted to hear that the crew are safe and well, which has been our fundamental concern from the outset,” Hammond told The Associated Press.

Hammond said that he had no other details about the vessel.

TankerTrackers.com, a website tracking the oil trade at sea, said it saw the vessel in satellite photos on Tuesday in Iranian waters off Hormuz Island. 

Hormuz Island, near the port city of Bandar Abbas, is some 190 kilometers (120 miles) north of Khorfakkan, a city on the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates where the vessel had been for months.

The Emirati government, the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet did not respond to requests for comment. Iranian state media did not immediately report on the vessel and Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In May, the US Justice Department filed criminal charges against two Iranians, accusing them of trying to launder some $12 million to purchase the tanker, at that time named the MT Nautica, through a series of front companies. 

The vessel then took on Iranian oil from Kharg Island to sell abroad, the US government said.

Court documents allege the scheme involved the Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which is its elite expeditionary unit, as well as Iran’s national oil and tanker companies. The two men charged, one of whom also has an Iraqi passport, remain at large.

“Because a US bank froze the funds related to the sale of the vessel, the seller never received payment,” the Justice Department said. “As a result, the seller instituted a civil action in the UAE to recover the vessel.”

That civil action was believed to be still pending, raising questions of how the tanker sailed away from the Emirates after being seized by authorities there.

Data from the MT Gulf Sky’s Automatic Identification System tracker shows it had been turned off around 4:30 a.m. on July 5, according to ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com. Ships are supposed to keep their AIS trackers on, but Iranian vessels routinely turn theirs off to mask their movements.

Meanwhile, the 28 Indian sailors on board the vessel found themselves stuck on board without pay for months, according to the International Labor Organization. It filed a report saying the vessel and its sailors had been abandoned by its owners since March off Khorfakkan. The ILO did not respond to a request for comment.

As tensions between Iran and the US heated up last year, tankers plying the waters of the Mideast became targets, particularly near the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the Arabian Gulf’s narrow mouth through which 20 percent of all oil passes. Suspected limpet mine attacks the US blamed on Iran targeted several tankers. Iran denied being involved, though it did seize several tankers.