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.


Police hunt killer of Omani student stabbed outside London's Harrods

Updated 12 min 11 sec ago

Police hunt killer of Omani student stabbed outside London's Harrods

  • Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Araimi attacked as he walked home
  • Pronounced dead outside the famous department store

LONDON: UK police are hunting for the killer of an Omani student who was stabbed to death outside Harrods department store on Friday in a suspected robbery.

Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Araimi, the youngest son of Omani property developer Sheikh Abdullah Al-Araimi, was attacked as he walked home from spending the evening with a friend, reportedly a Bahraini citizen.

It is believed Al-Araimi, 20, attempted to fight back when attacked before receiving a stab wound to the back and collapsing near an entrance to the department store, according to a report in the Evening Standard.

He was pronounced dead shortly after at the scene on Brompton Road.

The man he was with, also wounded in the incident, has since been released from hospital.

Al-Araimi was a student at King’s College and his relatives, said to be close to Oman’s royal family, were regular visitors to the UK capital.

Detectives investigating the murder said that the motive for the attack was likely robbery, and that Al-Araimi might have been targeted for his Rolex watch.

“Mohammed and his friend were returning home from a restaurant when they were approached and assaulted by two male suspects on Basil Street at the junction of Pavilion Road,” Detective Chief Inspector Andy Partridge said.

“The victim and his friend were entirely blameless, simply enjoying a meal out together. It does appear that the motive for this cowardly attack was robbery.

“Following the attack, the suspects fled on foot along Basil Street in the direction of Sloane Street.

“I would appeal to anyone who saw two males running along that route, or to drivers who were in Sloane Street around midnight and may have captured any part of this incident on dash-cam footage, to get in contact with my team immediately,” he added.

However, robbery as a motive was dismissed by Al-Araimi’s family in a short statement in which they said his murder being related to the theft of a watch was false.

“The police have confirmed that his possessions were not taken, and he was not wearing a watch at the time of this horrific attack,” the statement read.

The Omani Embassy released a statement, saying: “A regrettable stabbing attack took place, claiming the life of the Omani student, Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Araimi. With great sadness and sorrow, the Embassy in London extends its condolences to the family of the deceased.”

The attack also prompted the UAE embassy to warn its citizens on Twitter against “wearing valuable items” given a recent spike in attacks on "citizens of Arab Gulf states.”

Attacks on Arab citizens have increased in London in the past five years, the most high-profile of which saw three Emirati women being bludgeoned to death in an attempted robbery in 2014 at the Cumberland Hotel.