Egyptian court adjourns Suez Canal ship-block case for further compensation talks

Egyptian court adjourns Suez Canal ship-block case for further compensation talks
The Ever Given, one of the world’s largest container ships, is seen after it was fully floated in the Suez Canal, Egypt, March 29, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 31 May 2021

Egyptian court adjourns Suez Canal ship-block case for further compensation talks

Egyptian court adjourns Suez Canal ship-block case for further compensation talks
  • Next hearing was adjourned until June 20 on the request of lawyers representing the Suez Canal Authority and the owner of the giant cargo vessel that closed the waterway for six days
  • Both sides have blamed the other for the Ever Given’s grounding and the dispute centers on the amount of compensation the authority is claiming for salvaging the vessel

CAIRO: An Egyptian court has postponed a compensation case over the Ever Given container ship’s blocking of the Suez Canal to allow more time for negotiators to agree a deal.

The next hearing in the matter was adjourned to June 20 on the request of lawyers representing the Suez Canal Authority and the owner of the giant cargo vessel that closed the waterway for six days in March after running aground.

Both sides have blamed the other for the Ever Given’s grounding and the dispute centers on the amount of compensation the authority is claiming for salvaging the vessel.

Initially, the Suez Canal Authority had demanded $916 million in compensation, an amount that was later lowered to $550 million, head of the authority, Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie, said on TV on Sunday. The money would cover the salvage operation, costs of stalled canal traffic, and lost transit fees for the week the Ever Given blocked the channel.

The vessel’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., and insurers disputed the claim having previously had a $150 million compensation package offer rejected by the authority.

The Ismailia Economic Court adjourned the hearing after the ship’s owner submitted a new offer to settle out of court, the Suez Canal Authority said in a statement.

Since it was freed, the Panamanian-flagged vessel, which carries cargo between Asia and Europe, has been ordered by authorities to remain in a holding lake mid-canal while compensation was agreed.

The canal’s blockage disrupted global shipping with hundreds of vessels delayed and others forced to take the much longer route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip, requiring additional fuel and costs.

An estimated 10 percent of world trade flows through the canal, a pivotal source of foreign currency to Egypt, with 19,000 ships making the passage last year, according to official figures.

Announcing the court’s adjournment of the case, Khaled Abu Bakr, the authority’s adviser to the negotiating committee, said the Ever Given’s owner had acknowledged the authority’s professional handling of the crisis and negotiations over damages were still ongoing.

He pointed out that details of the talks and the amount of compensation would be kept private in order to preserve relations between the company and commercial agents.

Mohammed Al-Sayed, a member of the negotiating committee, said the authority had managed to refloat the Ever Given without causing any damage to the ship or its cargo.

However, he noted that the authority had incurred losses during the rescue operation including a boat which sank resulting in the death of one its crew.

Nabil Zeidan, legal representative of the Suez Canal Authority, said data from the ship’s black box recorder had confirmed that the Ever Given’s captain was at fault for the accident by exceeding canal speed limits and travelling at 22 knots (40.7 kilometers per hour).

He rejected allegations that the authority had been responsible for the incident by allowing the ship to sail in unfavorable weather conditions.

George Safwat, official spokesperson for the Suez Canal Authority, said the rescue operation had involved more than 600 authority personnel but that the worker who died belonged to a contractor’s rescue team.


Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group
Updated 03 August 2021

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group
  • The explosion killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed swathes of Lebanon’s capital
  • HRW based its report on official documents it reviewed and on multiple interviews with top officials

BEIRUT: A report released by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday concluded there was strong evidence to suggest some Lebanese officials knew about and tacitly accepted the lethal risks posed by ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut port before the fatal blast there on Aug. 4 last year.
The explosion, caused by the chemicals stored unsafely at the port for years, killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed swathes of Lebanon’s capital.
The report by the international rights watchdog contained over 700 pages of findings and documents. Its investigation also concluded there was evidence that multiple Lebanese authorities were criminally negligent under Lebanese law.
HRW based its report on official documents it reviewed and on multiple interviews with top officials including the president, the caretaker prime minister and the head of the country’s state security.
The investigation trailed events from 2014 onwards after the shipment was brought to Beirut port and tracked repeated warnings of danger to various official bodies.
“Evidence strongly suggests that some government officials foresaw the death that the ammonium nitrate’s presence in the port could result in and tacitly accepted the risk of the deaths occurring,” the report said.
It called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to mandate an investigation into the blast and on foreign governments to impose human rights and corruption sanctions on officials.
A Lebanese investigation into the blast, led by Judge Tarek Bitar, has stalled. Politicians and senior security officials are yet to be questioned and requests to lift their immunity have been hindered.
The HRW report said President Michel Aoun, caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab, the director general of state security Tony Saliba and other former ministers wanted for questioning by judge Bitar, had failed to take action to protect the general public despite having been informed of the risks.
Reuters sought comment on the report’s findings from Aoun, Diab and Saliba. The presidential palace offered no comment. There was no immediate response from Diab and Saliba.
Aoun said on Friday he was ready to testify and that no one was above the law.
A document seen by Reuters that was sent just over two weeks before the blast showed the president and prime minister were warned about the security risk posed by the chemicals stored at the port and that they could destroy the capital.


Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president

Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president
Updated 03 August 2021

Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president

Iran supreme leader endorses hard-line protégé as president
  • New Iran president Ebrahim Raisi: Government would try to improve living conditions which have suffered under the sanctions

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran’s supreme leader officially endorsed his hard-line protégé as the nation’s next president on Tuesday, just two days ahead of the inauguration of Ebrahim Raisi. The new president’s ascension comes at a sensitive time for Iran and the wider Middle East.
Iran is reeling from crushing US sanctions that have devastated the economy, led to the crash of the Iranian riyal and hit ordinary Iranians hard.
In his speech, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei advised Raisi, a former judiciary chief, to “empower the country’s poor people and improve the national currency.”
Doubts about an imminent return to Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal, which granted Iran sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear program, have become a dark cloud dangling over the incoming hard-line administration.
The collapse of the nuclear agreement after former President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the accord three years ago doomed the relatively moderate administration of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who has seen his popularity plummet. Rouhani sat stone-faced throughout the endorsement ceremony.
Last week, Khamenei delivered a harsh rebuke of the West, blaming the delay of the nuclear deal’s revival on America’s “stubborn” negotiating stance. While repeating his usual anti-West rhetoric on Tuesday about Iran’s “enemies” seeking to sway public opinion, Khamenei struck a milder tone during the endorsement. He focused on Iran’s mounting domestic issues, praising Raisi’s anti-corruption campaign and asking him to encourage local production.
“The nation needs competent, effective and brave management,” Khamenei said.
Without commenting on the stalled nuclear negotiations in Vienna, Raisi stressed he would “pursue the removal of oppressive sanctions” in order to salvage the crippled economy.
“We will not (tie) the people’s dining tables and the economy to the will of the foreigners,” he said. Raisi won a landslide victory in the June election, which saw the lowest in the Islamic Republic’s history. He will take the oath of office in an inauguration ceremony Thursday before parliament.
President Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the landmark nuclear accord and lift sanctions if Iran moves back into compliance with the agreement.
But escalating tensions in the Middle East now risk complicating the diplomatic choreography. The West has blamed Iran for a drone attack last week that struck an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman, killing two crew members. Iran has denied involvement in the incident, which marks the first-known fatal assault after a yearslong shadow war targeting commercial shipping in the region.


Tunisia over worst of COVID-19 wave but must speed up jabs: WHO

Tunisia over worst of COVID-19 wave but must speed up jabs: WHO
Updated 03 August 2021

Tunisia over worst of COVID-19 wave but must speed up jabs: WHO

Tunisia over worst of COVID-19 wave but must speed up jabs: WHO
  • The Delta variant was responsible for “more than 90 percent” of cases
  • The health ministry on Monday announced the start of a mobile vaccination campaign in several regions

TUNIS: Tunisia — which has seen the world’s worst Covid-19 death toll — may be over the peak of the latest wave but the government must still speed up inoculations, the WHO said on Monday.
“The epidemiological data are going in the right direction,” World Health Organization representative in Tunisia Yves Souteyrand told a press conference.
“We have the feeling that the peak of the epidemic may have passed.”
But with vaccines in short supply, overwhelmed hospitals, shortages of oxygen and the highly contagious Delta variant rampaging through the country’s 12 million population mean the risk of a health disaster remains, the WHO warned.
The Delta variant was responsible for “more than 90 percent” of cases, and the impact of family gatherings during a recent religious holiday was hard to evaluate but could set back progress made, Souteyrand said.
“The challenge is to speed up the vaccination campaign,” he said.
The country had “in 10 days received around seven million vaccine doses and will receive perhaps two or three million more” soon, he said.
The WHO has also provided 400 oxygen concentrators and four oxygen generators to Tunisia, where the government has been in crisis after President Kais Saied suspended parliament and took direct power — a move his critics said was a coup.
Since the shock move late last month, Saied has established a coronavirus crisis unit, supervised by a high-level military official, to help manage the country’s outbreak.
Souteyrand said that “relations between the WHO and the health ministry have not been affected by the political crisis.”
The health ministry on Monday announced the start of a mobile vaccination campaign in several regions.
Authorities have also announced a vaccination drive across the country on Sunday for Tunisians aged over 40.
Over the past seven days, the North African country has registered the worst official Covid-19 mortality rate in the world, with 10.64 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, an AFP tally based on officially reported data shows.
On the other hand, Tunisia shares its coronavirus data more transparently than many other countries, the WHO said.


Iraq calls on Syria to increase water releases due to shortfall

Iraq calls on Syria to increase water releases due to shortfall
Updated 03 August 2021

Iraq calls on Syria to increase water releases due to shortfall

Iraq calls on Syria to increase water releases due to shortfall
  • By increasing water releases, Syria would share the damage and losses between the two sides, Hamdani said

DUBAI: Iraq called on Syria to increase water releases to compensate for the lack of rainfall and high temperatures that have caused a shortfall in revenues, Iraq’s state media reported on Monday.

The Minister of Water Resources, Mahdi Rashid Al-Hamdani said he “held a closed-circuit televised meeting with the Syrian Minister of Water Resources, Tammam Raad, to review the measures taken regarding the signed accord during Al-Hamdani's visit to Syria”

Last month, both countries signed a joint agreement to exchange data related to the imports of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers “periodically and in emergency situations."
The pact also includes the creation of technical committees and the unification of positions regarding the quantities of water received at the Turkish-Syrian border. 

Syria expressed willingness to attend joint meetings with Iraq and Turkey, Hamdani said, adding that the Syrian side's agreement is a development in the field of joint cooperation in the water file.”

By increasing water releases, Syria would share the damage and losses between the two sides, Hamdani said, adding that the meeting emphasized the need to continue coordination and joint cooperation with regard to training, studies and exchange of data.

Syria will participate in the research center to be established in Iraq, according to Hamdani.


UAE makes COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for students 16 years old and above to return to school

UAE makes COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for students 16 years old and above to return to school
Updated 03 August 2021

UAE makes COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for students 16 years old and above to return to school

UAE makes COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for students 16 years old and above to return to school
  • The Gulf state has one of the world’s highest immunization rates
  • Abut 79 percent of its population with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

DUBAI: The UAE’s education ministry has advised all students 16 years old and above to receive their COVID-19 jabs before the school year reopens, as only vaccinated pupils would be allowed entry into campuses.

“The Ministry of Education encourages all individuals (aged 16 and above) to get vaccinated as soon as possible. Vaccination is a mandatory requirement for entering educational facilities,” the ministry said in a social media post.

Dubai students are not affected by the requirement as the emirate has a separate COVID-19 policy body and private schools are regulated by its own education authority.

The ministry also asked other stakeholders in the education sector – teachers, administrative staff, support services and parents – to get themselves vaccinated against coronavirus.

Health officials on Monday allowed the emergency use of the Sinopharm vaccine for the 3 to 17 age group as part of efforts to combat the spread of the highly contagious disease.

The Gulf state has one of the world’s highest immunization rates, with 79.04 percent of its population with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine while 70.69 percent are already fully vaccinated.

The total number of doses that has been administered is now at 16,810,996, for a vaccine distribution rate of 169.97 doses per 100 people.