Four commercial vessels targeted by ‘sabotage’ near UAE waters: Foreign ministry

Four commercial vessels were targeted by "sabotage operations" near the territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 May 2019

Four commercial vessels targeted by ‘sabotage’ near UAE waters: Foreign ministry

  • Comes amid rising tensions between neighboring Iran and the US
  • Rumors about ships inside the port being sabotaged were unfounded

DUBAI: Four commercial vessels were targeted by "acts of sabotage" near the territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates on Sunday morning, the UAE foreign ministry said in a statement amid rising tensions between neighboring Iran and the US.

The statement added the vessels, that were targeted near Fujairah and at a distance of 115 kilometers from Iran,  were “civilian trading vessels of various nationalities”, and that the UAE was investigating the incident with local and international bodies. 

Rumors about ships inside the port being sabotaged were unfounded, the ministry added.

The port of Fujairah continues to operate as normal and there were no victims of the sabotage incident.

The ministry added that targeting merchant ships and threatening the lives of crew members is a “dangerous development,” and that the government considers the acts of sabotage to be a threat to the safety and security of the UAE. 

The country called on the international community to prevent any party from compromising maritime safety and security.  

The ministry statement was tweeted by the official news agency WAM.

Lebanon’s pro-Iran satellite channel Al-Mayadeen falsely reported that a series of explosions had struck Fujairah’s port, and the reports were repeated by state media in Iran.

Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, head of the Iranian Parliament’s national security committee, said the “explosions” showed that the security of Gulf states was “like glass.”


The sabotage incident follows a US Maritime Administration warning last week that Iran could target commercial sea traffic. “Since early May, there is an increased possibility that Iran and/or its regional proxies could take action against US and partner interests, including oil production infrastructure, after recently threatening to close the Strait of Hormuz,” the organization said.

“Iran or its proxies could respond by targeting commercial vessels, including oil tankers, or US military vessels in the Red Sea, Bab El Mandeb or the Arabian Gulf.”

Bahrain condemned the acts of sabotage, saying it was a "criminal act" that threatened maritime traffic in the region. The kingdom said it stood with the UAE.

The US deployed the Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 bombers to the region on May 4 in response to what it said was an “escalated threat” from Iran.

A senior Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander issued a veiled threat on Sunday to the US military presence in the Gulf.

“An aircraft carrier that has at least 40 to 50 planes on it and 6,000 forces gathered within it was a serious threat for us in the past but now it is a target and the threats have switched to opportunities,” said Amirali Hajjizadeh, head of the Guards’ aerospace division. “If they make a move we will hit them in the head.”

Earlier on Sunday, the UAE emirate of Fujairah denied media reports that claimed a series of explosions had rocked its port on Sunday. 

Claims from a number of news outlets, which were then shared on social media, said there had been explosions on Sunday morning and that fires had broken out on some of the docked oil tankers in the port.

Fujairah government’s media office tweeted a statement on Sunday denying there had been any explosions and that operations were continuing as normal.

It also called on media organizations to be “accurate” in their reporting and to only publish information once it was “confirmed by official sources.”

The harbor master of Fujairah port, who had been on shift at the time, also confirmed that there was no truth to the reports.
 

 


Mideast faces opioid crisis as it rages through developing world

Updated 51 min 35 sec ago

Mideast faces opioid crisis as it rages through developing world

  • Mass abuse of the opioid tramadol spans continents, from India to Africa to the Middle East
  • Abuse is now so rampant some countries consumed by it are asking international authorities to intervene

KAPURTHALA: Reports rolled in with escalating urgency — pills seized by the truckload, pills swallowed by schoolchildren, pills in the pockets of dead terrorists.
These pills, the world has been told, are safer than the OxyContins, the Vicodins, the fentanyls that have wreaked so much devastation. But now they are the root of what the United Nations named “the other opioid crisis” — an epidemic featured in fewer headlines than the American one, as it rages through the most vulnerable countries on the planet.
Mass abuse of the opioid tramadol spans continents, from India to Africa to the Middle East, creating international havoc some experts blame on a loophole in narcotics regulation and a miscalculation of the drug’s danger. The man-made opioid was touted as able to relieve pain with little risk of abuse. Unlike other opioids, tramadol flowed freely around the world, unburdened by international controls that track most dangerous drugs.
But abuse is now so rampant some countries consumed by it are asking international authorities to intervene.

Grunenthal, the German company that originally made the drug, is campaigning for the status quo, arguing international regulations make narcotics difficult to get in countries with disorganized health systems, and adding tramadol to the list would deprive patients in pain access to any opioid at all.
“This is a huge public health dilemma,” said Dr. Gilles Forte, the secretary of the World Health Organization’s committee that recommends how drugs should be regulated. Tramadol is available in war zones and impoverished nations because it is unregulated. But it is widely abused for the same exact reason. “It’s a really very complicated balance to strike.”
Tramadol is not as deadly as other opioids and the crisis isn’t killing with the ferocity of America’s struggle withe the drugs. Still, individual governments from the US to Egypt to Ukraine have realized the drug’s dangers are not as limited as believed and worked to rein in the tramadol trade. The north Indian state of Punjab, the center of India’s opioid epidemic, was the latest to crack down. The pills were everywhere, as legitimate medication sold in pharmacies, but also illicit counterfeits hawked by street vendors.
This year, authorities seized hundreds of thousands of tablets, banned most pharmacy sales and shut down counterfeit pill factories, pushing the price from 35 cents for a 10-pack to $14. The government opened a network of treatment centers, fearing those who had become opioid addicted would resort to heroin out of desperation. Hordes of people rushed in to seek help in dealing with excruciating withdrawal.
For some, tramadol had become as essential as food.
“Like if you don’t eat, you start to feel hungry. Similar is the case with not taking it,” said auto shop welder Deepak Arora, a gaunt 30-year-old who took 15 tablets day, so much he had to steal from his family to pay for pills. “You are like a dead person.”
Jeffery Bawa, an officer with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, realized what was happening in 2016.
Police began finding pills on terrorists, who traffic it to fund their networks and take it to bolster their capacity for violence, Bawa said.
Most of it was coming from India. The country’s sprawling pharmaceutical industry is fueled by cheap generics. Pill factories produce knock-offs and ship them in bulk around the world, in doses far exceeding medical limits.
In 2017, law enforcement reported that $75 million worth of tramadol from India was confiscated en route to the Islamic State terror group. Authorities intercepted 600,000 tablets headed for Boko Haram. Another 3 million were found in a pickup truck in Niger, in boxes disguised with UN logos. The agency warned that tramadol was playing “a direct role in the destabilization of the region.”
“We cannot let the situation get any further out of control,” that alert read.
Grunenthal has campaigned to keep tramadol unregulated. It funded surveys that found regulation would impede pain treatment, and paid consultants to travel to the WHO to make the case that it’s safer that other opioids.
Spokesman Stepan Kracala said regulation would not necessarily curtail illicit trade and could backfire: Some desperate pain patients turn to the black market if no legal options exist.
This has happened in India, which regulated tramadol in 2018. Regulators say exports overseas and abuse at home came down. But they acknowledge that the vastness of the pharmaceutical industry and the ingenuity of traffickers makes curtailing abuse and illegal exports all but impossible. Tramadol is still easy to find.
Jyoti Rani stood on her front steps and pointed to house after house in the small city of Kapurthala where she said tramadol is still sold in her neighborhood of narrow roads and open drains, where school-aged boys sit hunched over the street in the middle of a weekday.
Rani’s addiction began with heroin. When her 14-year-old son died, she fell into depression.
“I wanted to kill myself, but I ended up becoming an addict,” she cried. A doctor prescribed tramadol to help kick the habit — instead, she formed a new one.
Now she is among about 30,000 people in Punjab who go to government-run addiction clinics for daily treatment.
Countries’ efforts to control tramadol on their own often fail, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, particularly in places where addiction has taken hold.