Emirates and Etihad ready to resume transit flights

Resumption of transit services is a major step in returning Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports to normal operations two months after flights were halted. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 05 June 2020

Emirates and Etihad ready to resume transit flights

  • UAE’s two largest carriers lead the way as hard-hit aviation sector struggles to shake off pandemic paralysis

DUBAI: Emirates and Etihad Airways, the UAE’s two largest carriers, said they will resume transit flights as the country’s key aviation sector slowly emerges from pandemic paralysis.

Dubai-based Emirates said on Thursday it will operate transit flights to 29 destinations by June 15, while Abu Dhabi’s Etihad said it would transit passengers to 20 destinations from June 10.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become key global layover hubs for passengers moving between Asia, Europe and the Americas and the resumption of transit services is an important step toward returning the cities’ two vast and modern airports to normal operations.

It comes more than two months after the UAE stopped all passenger flights in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Foreign citizens without UAE residency remain banned from flying to the country.

Emirates said it would also offer flights to Bahrain, Manchester, Zurich, Vienna, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dublin, New York JFK, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Jakarta, Taipei, Hong Kong, Perth and Brisbane.

“Customers can book to fly between destinations in the Asia Pacific and Europe or the Americas, with a convenient connection in Dubai, as long as they meet travel and immigration entry requirements of their destination country,” Emirates said.

Meanwhile, Etihad said transfer connections via Abu Dhabi will now be available from Jakarta, Karachi, Kuala Lumpur,
Manila, Melbourne, Seoul, Singapore, Sydney, and Tokyo to
major cities across Europe — including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Dublin, Frankfurt, Geneva, London Heathrow, Madrid, Milan, Paris Charles de Gaulle, and Zurich.

Other major carriers are also slowly resuming services as some governments discuss the possibility of opening limited “air bridges” to allow for the possibility of overseas vacations.

Virgin Atlantic said on Thursday it would restart some flights that had been grounded with further services planned for August. It said that flights to Orlando and Hong Kong from London Heathrow would resume on July 20. New York JFK, Los Angeles, and Shanghai are set to restart on July 21.

Global aviation body IATA has warned that post-coronavirus fare discounting was delivering an added financial blow to carriers.

“Airlines need cash because of the crisis and they’re seeking to encourage passengers into seats by offering low fares,” said IATA Chief Economist Brian Pearce.

Carriers reduced domestic fares by an average 23 percent last month according to IATA.


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.