Radio call describes Iranian gunmen storming tanker off UAE coast

Radio call describes Iranian gunmen storming tanker off UAE coast
The ship that would later become the Asphalt Princess sails through Quebec City, Canada. (File/AP)
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Updated 04 August 2021

Radio call describes Iranian gunmen storming tanker off UAE coast

Radio call describes Iranian gunmen storming tanker off UAE coast
  • “Iranian people are onboard with ammunition,” a crew member said in a radio recording

FUJAIRAH, UAE: The hijackers who captured a vessel off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman departed the targeted ship on Wednesday, the British navy reported, as recorded radio traffic appeared to reveal a crew member onboard saying Iranian gunmen had stormed the asphalt tanker.
The incident — described by the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations the night before as a “potential hijack” — revived fears of an escalation in Mideast waters and ended with as much mystery as it began.
Hints of what unfolded on the Panama-flagged asphalt tanker, called Asphalt Princess, began to emerge with the maritime radio recording, obtained by commodities pricing firm Argus Media and shared with The Associated Press. In the audio, a crew member can be heard telling the Emirati coast guard that five or six armed Iranians had boarded the tanker.
“Iranian people are onboard with ammunition,” the crew member says. “We are … now, drifting. We cannot tell you exact our ETA to (get to) Sohar,” the port in Oman listed on the vessel’s tracker as its destination. It was not clear whether the crew members, whom he identified as Indian and Indonesian, were in immediate danger.
No one took responsibility for the brief seizure, which underscored mounting tensions as Iran and the United States seek a resolution to their standoff over Tehran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Apparently responding to the incident, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Tuesday denied that Iran played any role. He described the recent maritime attacks in the Arabian Gulf as “completely suspicious.”
Over the past years, the rising tensions have played out in the waters of the Arabian Gulf, where just last week a drone attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman killed two crew members. The West blamed Iran for the raid, which marked the first known fatal assault in the years-long shadow war targeting vessels in Mideast waters. Iran denied involvement.
Late on Tuesday, the intruders boarded the Asphalt Princess sailing off the coast of Fujairah, authorities said. The official news agency of Oman’s military said it received reports that the Asphalt Princess had been hijacked and immediately dispatched Royal Air Force maritime patrol aircraft and naval vessels “to contribute to securing international waters.”
In the recorded radio traffic, when the Emirati coast guard asks the crew member what the Iranian gunmen were doing onboard, he says he “cannot understand the (Iranians),” his voice muffled, before trying to hand over the radio to someone else. The call then cuts off.
Possible signs of trouble began to emerge that evening when six oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah announced around the same time via their Automatic Identification System trackers that they were “not under command,” according to MarineTraffic.com. That typically means a vessel has lost power and can no longer steer.
Satellite-tracking data for the Asphalt Princess had showed it gradually heading toward Iranian waters off the port of Jask early Wednesday, according to MarineTraffic.com. Hours later, however, it stopped and changed course toward Oman, just before the British navy group declared the hijackers had departed and the vessel was now “safe.”
In an analysis, maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global described the seizure of the Asphalt Princess as the latest Iranian response to outside pressures, economic conflicts and other grievances.
“Iran has consistently shown that in conducting this kind of operation, it is calculated in doing so, both by targeting vessels directly connected with ongoing disputes and (vessels) operating within the ‘grey space’ of legitimacy,” which may be involved in illicit trade, Dryad Global said.
The owner of the Asphalt Princess, listed as Emirati free zone-based Glory International, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The US military’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet and the British Defense Ministry also did not respond to requests for comment. The Emirati government did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
The Gulf of Oman sits near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which a fifth of all traded oil passes. Fujairah, on the UAE’s eastern coast, is a main port in the region for ships to take on new oil cargo, pick up supplies or trade out crew.
For the past two years, after then-President Donald Trump withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal and imposed crushing sanctions, the waters off Fujairah have witnessed a series of explosions and hijackings. The US Navy has blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on vessels that damaged tankers.
In the summer of 2019, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard troops detained a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, near the Strait of Hormuz. Last year, an oil tanker sought by the US for allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran was hijacked off the Emirati coast and later ended up in Iran, though Tehran never acknowledged the incident.
And in January, armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops stormed a South Korean tanker and forced the ship to change course and travel to Iran. While Iran claimed it detained the ship over pollution concerns, it appeared to link the seizure to negotiations over billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks.


Turkey’s Lake Tuz dries up due to climate change, farming

Turkey’s Lake Tuz dries up due to climate change, farming
Updated 8 sec ago

Turkey’s Lake Tuz dries up due to climate change, farming

Turkey’s Lake Tuz dries up due to climate change, farming
KONYA, Turkey: For centuries, Lake Tuz in central Turkey has hosted huge colonies of flamingos that migrate and breed there when the weather is warm, feeding on algae in the lake’s shallow waters.
This summer, however, a heart-wrenching scene replaced the usual splendid sunset images of the birds captured by wildlife photographer Fahri Tunc. Carcasses of flamingo hatchlings and adults scattered across the cracked, dried-up lake bed.
The 1,665 square kilometer (643 square mile) lake — Turkey’s second-largest lake and home to several bird species — has entirely receded this year. Experts say Lake Tuz (Salt Lake in Turkish) is a victim of climate change-induced drought, which has hit the region hard, and decades of harmful agricultural policies that exhausted the underground water supply.
“There were about 5,000 young flamingos. They all perished because there was no water,” said Tunc, who also heads the regional branch of the Turkish environmental group Doga Dernegi. “It was an incredibly bad scene. It’s not something I can erase from my life. I hope I do not come across such a scene again.”
Several other lakes across Turkey have similarly dried up or have receded to alarming levels, affected by low precipitation and unsustainable irrigation practices. Climate experts warn that the entire Mediterranean basin, which includes Turkey, is particularly at risk of severe drought and desertification.
In Lake Van, Turkey’s largest lake, located in the country’s east, fishing boats no longer could approach a dock last week after the water fell to unusual levels, HaberTurk television reported.
”(We have) rising temperatures and decreasing rain, and on the other side, the water needs for irrigation in agriculture,” said Levent Kurnaz, a scientist at Bogazici University’s Center for Climate Change and Policy Studies. “It’s a bad situation all over Turkey at the moment.”
A study based on satellite imagery conducted by Turkey’s Ege University shows that water levels at Lake Tuz started to drop beginning in 2000, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency. The lake completely receded this year due to rising temperatures, intensified evaporation and insufficient rain, according to the study.
The study also noted a sharp decline in underground water levels around Lake Tuz, a hypersaline lake that straddles the Turkish provinces of Ankara, Konya and Aksaray.
The Konya basin in central Anatolia, which includes Lake Tuz, was once known as Turkey’s breadbasket. Farms in the region have turned to growing profitable but water-intensive crops such as corn, sugar-beet and alfalfa, which have drained groundwater supplies, photographer Tunc said. Farmers have dug thousands of unlicensed wells while streams feeding the lake have dried up or been diverted, he said.
Environmental groups say poor government agricultural policies play a significant role in the deterioration of Turkey’s lakes.
“If you don’t pay them enough money, the farmers, they will plant whatever is water intensive and will make money for them. And if you just tell them it’s not allowed, then they won’t vote for you in the next election,” Kurnaz said.
The overuse of groundwater is also making the region more susceptible to the formation of sinkholes. Dozens of such depressions have been discovered around Konya’s Karapinar district, including one that Associated Press journalists saw next to a newly harvested alfalfa field.
Tunc, 46, a native of Aksaray, is saddened by the thought that he won’t be able to enjoy the flamingos with his 7-month-old son like he did with his 21-year-old son. He remains hopeful, however, that Lake Tuz may replenish itself, if the government stops the water-intensive agriculture.
Kurnaz, the climate scientist, is less optimistic.
“They keep telling people that they shouldn’t use groundwater for this agriculture and people are not listening. There are about 120,000 unlicensed wells in the region, and everybody is pumping out water as if that water will last forever,” Kurnaz said.
“But if you are on a flat place, it can rain as much as you want and it won’t replenish the groundwater in a short time. It takes maybe thousands of years in central Anatolia to replenish the underground water table,” he added.
The drought and flamingo deaths at Lake Tuz were just one of a series of ecological disasters to strike Turkey this summer, believed to be partly due to climate change.
In July, wildfires devastated swaths of forests along Turkey’s southern coast, killing eight people and forcing thousands to flee. Parts of the country’s northern Black Sea coast were struck by floods that killed 82 people. Earlier, a layer of sea mucilage, blamed on soaring temperatures and poor waste management, covered the Sea of Marmara, threatening marine life.
Although Turkey was among the first countries to sign the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the country held off ratifying it until this month as it sought to be reclassified as a developing country instead of a developed one to avoid harsher emission reduction targets. Turkish lawmakers issued a declaration rejecting the status of developed country at the same time they ratified the climate agreement.
In the town of Eskil, near the shores of Lake Tuz, farmer Cengiz Erkol, 54, checked the irrigation system on his field growing animal feed.
“The waters aren’t running as strong and abundant as they used to,” he said. “I have four children. The future doesn’t look good. Each year is worse than the previous year.”

EgyptAir resumes flights between Luxor, Sharm El-Sheikh after 6-year hiatus

EgyptAir resumes flights between Luxor, Sharm El-Sheikh after 6-year hiatus
Updated 8 min 5 sec ago

EgyptAir resumes flights between Luxor, Sharm El-Sheikh after 6-year hiatus

EgyptAir resumes flights between Luxor, Sharm El-Sheikh after 6-year hiatus
  • The decision came after the ministers of aviation and tourism met to discuss ways to promote tourism in Egypt
  • In April, Egypt and Russia agreed to resume full air traffic between the two countries’ airports after a six-year hiatus

CAIRO: After a six-year hiatus, EgyptAir has resumed flights between the cities of Sharm El-Sheikh and Luxor to encourage domestic tourism.

The decision came after the ministers of aviation and tourism met to discuss ways to promote tourism in Egypt.

Flights between the two cities were halted in 2015 after incoming tourism declined due to the downing of a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula in October 2015, which killed 224 people on board.

In April, Egypt and Russia agreed to resume full air traffic between the two countries’ airports after a six-year hiatus.

The flight between Sharm El-Sheikh and Luxor is scheduled to operate once a week, and its frequency could increase if there is appropriate supply and demand.

The flight was restarted at the request of the private tourism sector, the Egyptian Federation of Tourist Chambers, and the Chamber of Travel and Tourism Companies and Agencies.

 


Lebanese parliament confirms holding parliamentary elections on March 27

Lebanese parliament confirms holding parliamentary elections on March 27
Updated 15 min 27 sec ago

Lebanese parliament confirms holding parliamentary elections on March 27

Lebanese parliament confirms holding parliamentary elections on March 27
  • The vote passed on Thursday by 77 MPs
  • Gebran Bassil, FPM leader and son-in-law of Aoun, withdrew alongside his alliance from the session on the back of the dispute

BEIRUT: The Lebanese parliament voted on Thursday to hold legislative elections on March 27, confirming an earlier vote last week that had been challenged by President Michel Aoun.
The body originally voted on Oct. 19 to hold the election at that time but President Aoun sent the law back for reconsideration on Friday.
The vote passed on Thursday by 77 MPs but some, including members of Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), who have been against the earlier date, expressed concern around whether quorum was achieved for a second vote regarding the voting of Lebanese living abroad.
The elections were originally expected in May.
Gebran Bassil, FPM leader and son-in-law of Aoun, withdrew alongside his alliance from the session on the back of the dispute, ending the session for the day.
“We withdrew from the session because of a major constitutional violation,” he said after leaving.
The March 27 election date would give Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government only a few months to try to secure an IMF recovery plan amid a deepening economic meltdown.


Egypt’s supply minister says new price for bread ‘will take time’

Egypt’s supply minister says new price for bread ‘will take time’
Updated 28 October 2021

Egypt’s supply minister says new price for bread ‘will take time’

Egypt’s supply minister says new price for bread ‘will take time’
  • Subsidized loaf has been sold since for 5 Egyptian piasters

CAIRO: Egypt’s supply minister Ali Moselhy said on Thursday deciding a new price for subsidized bread “will take time.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in August said it was time to increase the price of the country’s subsidized bread, revisiting the issue for the first time since 1977 when then president Anwar Sadat reversed a price rise in the face of riots.

The subsidized loaf has been sold since then for 5 Egyptian piasters ($0.0032).

“The prices of commodities have been increasing since January, across vegetable oils markets, sugar and lately wheat,” Moselhy told a news conference in Cairo.

“The wheat price set by suppliers will take into account inflation,” he said, adding that the country’s strategic reserves of wheat were sufficient for five months and those of sugar until mid-February.


Death toll of Sudan anti-coup protesters rises to 7

Death toll of Sudan anti-coup protesters rises to 7
Updated 28 October 2021

Death toll of Sudan anti-coup protesters rises to 7

Death toll of Sudan anti-coup protesters rises to 7
  • Gen Abdel-Fattah Buran meanwhile fires at least six ambassadors

KHARTOUM: Seven protesters have been killed in Sudan since a military coup four days ago, a health official said Thursday, adding that other bodies had since arrived without giving an exact number.

Four protesters were already reported killed on Monday, hours after the military coup was announced.

“On Monday, morgues in Khartoum and Omdurman received the bodies of seven civilians,” Hisham Fagiri, head of the health ministry’s forensic authority, said. Some corpses showed wounds caused by “sharp tools,” he added.

Meanwhile, Gen Abdel-Fattah Buran fired at least six ambassadors, including the envoys to the US, the European Union and France, after they condemned the military’s takeover of the country, a military official said Thursday.

The diplomats pledged their support for the now-deposed government of Prime Minister Abddalla Hamdok.

Also fired by the strongman late Wednesday were the Sudanese ambassadors to Qatar, China and the UN mission in Geneva, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.

The state-run Sudan TV also reported the dismissals.

The ambassadors were fired two days after Burhan dissolved the transitional government and detained the prime minister, many government officials and political leaders in a coup condemned by the US and the West. The military allowed Hamdok to return home Tuesday after international pressure for his release.

Burhan said the military forces were compelled to take over because of quarrels between political parties that he claimed could lead to civil war. However, the coup also comes just weeks before Burhan would have had to hand over the leadership of the Sovereign Council, the ultimate decision-maker in Sudan, to a civilian, in a step that would reduce the military’s hold on the country. The council has military and civilian members. Hamdok’s government ran Sudan’s daily affairs.

The coup threatens to halt Sudan’s fitful transition to democracy, which began after the 2019 ouster of long-time ruler Omar Al-Bashir and his Islamist government in a popular uprising.

The takeover came after weeks of mounting tensions between military and civilian leaders over the course and pace of that process.

Ali bin Yahia, Sudan’s envoy in Geneva, was defiant after his dismissal.

“I will spare no efforts to reverse the situation, explain facts and resist the blackout imposed by coup officials on what is happened my beloved country,” he said in video comments posted online.

Nureldin Satti, the Sudanese envoy to the US, said Tuesday he was working with Sudanese diplomats in Brussels, Paris, Geneva and New York to “resist the military coup in support of the heroic struggle of the Sudanese people” to achieve the aims of the uprising against Al-Bashir.

In another development, Burhan fired Adlan Ibrahim, head of the country’s Civil Aviation Authority, according to the official. Adlan’s dismissal came after the resumption of flights in and out of Khartoum’s international airport resumed Wednesday.