US demands commercial vessels send Gulf transit plans in advance

British cruise line P&O has canceled cruises around Dubai and the Arabian Gulf until at least March next year after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in the region. (Supplied)
Updated 08 August 2019

US demands commercial vessels send Gulf transit plans in advance

  • P&O cancels Dubai and Gulf cruises amid escalating geopolitical tensions in the Strait of Hormuz

DUBAI: The US maritime agency has told US-flagged commercial vessels they should send transit plans in advance to American and British naval authorities if they intend to sail in Gulf waters following several incidents over tankers involving Iran.

The seizure of commercial vessels and attacks on tankers near the Strait of Hormuz have unsettled shipping lanes that link Middle Eastern oil producers to global markets.

The US, which has increased its military forces in the region, has blamed Iran for blasts on several tankers near the Strait, a charge Tehran denies.

Britain said on Monday it was joining the US in a maritime security mission in the Gulf to protect vessels after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker.

“Heightened military activity and increased political tensions in this region continue to pose serious threats to commercial vessels,” the US Maritime Administration (MARAD) said in an advisory on Wednesday.

“Associated with these threats is a potential for miscalculation or misidentification that could lead to aggressive actions,” it added.

Ships should also alert the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet and the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations in the event of any incident or suspicious activity. It warned they could face interference to their global positioning systems (GPS).

MARAD said in at least two incidents involving commercial vessels and Iran since May 2019 ships had reported interference with their GPS and “spoofed” communications from unknown entities falsely claiming to be US or other warships.

It advised crews to decline Iranian forces permission to board if the safety of the ship and crew would not be at risk but said they should not forcibly resist any boarding party.

Traffic through the Strait, through which about a fifth of the world’s oil passes, has become the focus for a standoff between Iran and the US after President Donald Trump quit a 2015 nuclear pact and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

Iran says the responsibility of securing these waters lies with Tehran and other countries in the region.

“The maritime coalition that US is trying to form will create more instability and insecurity,” Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami was quoted as saying by Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency on Thursday during phone calls with his counterparts from Qatar, Oman and Kuwait.

Washington is lobbying other nations to join the coalition along with Britain, which has the largest naval presence in the area after the US.

Earlier, P&O Cruises said it had canceled cruises around Dubai and the Arabian Gulf after Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in the region.

Citing increased tensions, the company said it has canceled its planned program in the region from October until at least March next year and all guests be issued a full refund.

“As a British company flying the Red Ensign it is not advisable for us to maintain our planned Dubai and Arabian Gulf program this winter season,” said Paul Ludlow, P&O Cruises president.

“We have therefore taken the unusual step of withdrawing Oceana from the region for the upcoming season.”


Bank jobs go as HSBC and Emirates NBD reduce costs

Updated 15 November 2019

Bank jobs go as HSBC and Emirates NBD reduce costs

  • Others have also reduced headcount amid economic downturn and property market weakness

DUBAI: HSBC Holdings has laid off about 40 bankers in the UAE and Emirates NBD is cutting around 100 jobs, as banks in the Arab world’s second-biggest economy reduce costs.

The cuts come amid weak economic growth, especially in Dubai, which is suffering from a property downturn.

HSBC’s redundancies came after the London-based bank reported a sharp fall in earnings and warned of a costly restructuring, as interim CEO Noel Quinn seeks to tackle its problems head-on.

HSBC has about 3,000 staff in the UAE, part of a nearly 10,000-strong workforce in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey.

The cuts at Dubai’s largest lender Emirates NBD came in consumer sales and liabilities, one source said, while a second played down the significance of the move.

HSBC and Emirates NBD declined to comment.

“The cuts are part of cost cutting and rationalizing to drive efficiencies in a challenging market,” the second source said.

Other banks have also reduced staff this year. UAE central bank data shows local banks laid off 446 people in the 12 months until the end of September. Foreign banks added staff in the same period.

Staff at local banks account for over 80 percent of the 35,518 banking employees in the country.

The merger between Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, Union Commercial Bank and Al Hilal Bank saw hundreds of redundancies.

Commercial Bank International (CBI) said it would offer voluntary retirement to employees in September, which sources said saw over 100 departures. Standard Chartered, too, cut over 100 jobs in the UAE in September.

Rating agency Fitch warned in September a weakening property market would put more pressure on the UAE’s banking sector.