Foreign seafarers tricked into servitude aboard dangerous Iranian ships

Foreign seafarers tricked into servitude aboard dangerous Iranian ships
Above, the Iranian-flagged oil tanker Fortune arrives at the El Palito refinery in Puerto Cabello, in Carabobo, Venezuela on May 25, 2020. (Venezuelan Ministry of Popular Power for Communication/AFP)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Foreign seafarers tricked into servitude aboard dangerous Iranian ships

Foreign seafarers tricked into servitude aboard dangerous Iranian ships
  • Young Indian workers risk being caught up in Tehran’s geopolitical games
  • Some sailors reported being kidnapped by IRGC agents and detained

LONDON: Iranian shipping companies have worked in league with international shipping recruitment firms to force large numbers of Indian seafarers to work in dangerous conditions with little or no pay, The Washington Post has reported.

Thousands of Indian men are reportedly lured to Iran each year by recruiters who guarantee them salaries and experience on reputable ships, sometimes promising assignments in other Middle Eastern countries.

The newspaper interviewed dozens of seafarers who said that they are instead sent to Iran, denied food, and at times forced to transport drugs and sanctioned cargo.

Ashkay Kumar, a 24-year-old cadet from Delhi, said: “They target seafarers for work without salary. It’s all a big trap. They forced us to work like slaves.”

Another, Ashwani Pandit, said that he had to take out loans to pay a recruiter $2,600 to secure a job onboard a ship that he believed was based in Dubai.

But he was then unexpectedly handed a plane ticket and visa for Iran.

When he found out at the last minute that he had been tricked, he was denied a refund and had little choice but to travel to Iran, where he worked on a small cargo boat for seven months transporting urea and iron to Iraq.

“My friends working on vessels in Iran warned me that companies there don’t pay salaries,” he added. “The same thing happened to me.”

Dozens of others reported paying thousands of dollars to recruiters for jobs and visas, only to find that they were tricked into working in Iran, rather than a more desirable Middle Eastern country.

Pandit left Iran empty-handed in August 2020 — his employer refusing to sign an exit visa until he had signed a contract stating that he did not require payment for his work.

Indians make up a significant portion of maritime workers worldwide. About 316,000 seafarers — or 20 percent of the total worldwide workforce — hail from India.

And Indian labor is especially appealing to Iranian companies, which struggle to recruit because of crippling sanctions that make the hiring process more difficult.

Andy Bowerman, regional director for the Middle East and South Asia at the Mission to Seafarers charity, told The Washington Post: “There is a close relationship between Iran and India, and therefore it is quite attractive in terms of securing visas.”

He added: “There are a lot of desperate people who will take a contract that they may or may not know has some risk to it.”

Many of those people working on Iranian ships also risk being caught up in geopolitical events far beyond their own control.

Jameel Akhtar, 29, from Mumbai, was among a group of seafarers who told of working on vessels smuggling fuel and other Iranian goods facing restrictions under US sanctions.

Akhtar said that after his tanker was caught transporting Iranian fuel in late 2020, it was detained by authorities from the UAE and remained anchored in port for months.

Then in July, four people wearing black masks and goggles, and brandishing guns, boarded the ship, tied the crew members’ hands behind their backs and threatened to shoot anybody who moved.

The crew was held hostage while the tanker was sailed to Bandar Abbas, Iran. Crew members were then released and assisted by the local Indian embassy to fly home.

Investigators concluded that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was likely responsible for the abduction.


Coalition: Saada prison was not targeted, facts will be provided

Coalition: Saada prison was not targeted, facts will be provided
Updated 49 min 37 sec ago

Coalition: Saada prison was not targeted, facts will be provided

Coalition: Saada prison was not targeted, facts will be provided

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen on Friday denied targeting a prison in Saada and accused the Houthi militia of trying to mislead the public.

In a statement carried by Al-Ekhbariyah TV, the coalition said its Joint Forces Command “applies the highest targeting standards” and excludes prisons from its list of targets.

Houthi officials on Thursday claimed that coalition air strikes last week killed around 90 people and wounded more than 200 at Saada prison.

“What the terrorist militia said is an attempt to mislead public opinion about the true activity of the site,” the coalition said.

“Saada prison was not targeted and we will provide all the facts and detailed information to the joint team” investigating alleged air strikes on detention centers in Yemen.

Fighting has escalated in recent weeks, with more air strikes on what the coalition says are Houthi military targets.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement has stepped up missile and drone attacks on the United Arab Emirates and cross-border launches on neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

The coalition had previously accused the Houthis of using civilian centers as a shield against legitimate strikes.


Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough

Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough
Updated 28 January 2022

Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough

Qatari official’s Iran visit gives hope for talks breakthrough
  • Sheikh Tamim to meet US President Joe Biden on Jan. 31

DUBAI: Qatar’s top diplomat visited Iran on Thursday, days before Qatar’s emir holds talks in Washington at a crucial time for efforts by Tehran and major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact.
The visit by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani comes after his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian on Monday said Tehran is ready to consider direct talks with Washington if it feels it can get a “good nuclear deal.”
However, Iran’s state news agency IRNA said the visit was not intended to help set up direct talks with Washington.
“Although Doha and Tehran are experiencing good and close relations, this visit ... has fueled some misconceptions. Some are fabricating it to facilitate direct talks with the United States,” IRNA said.
The US and Iran have held eight rounds of indirect talks in Vienna since April aimed at reinstating the pact that lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.
After then-US President Donald Trump quit the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions, Iran gradually started violating the pact’s nuclear curbs.

BACKGROUND

The US and Iran have held eight rounds of indirect talks in Vienna since April aimed at reinstating the pact that lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.

Significant gaps remain about the speed and scope of returning to the deal, including Iran’s demand for a US guarantee of no further punitive steps, and how and when to restore curbs on Iran’s atomic work.
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, will hold talks with US President Joe Biden on Jan. 31. They will include efforts to salvage the pact. The minister, Sheikh Mohammed, is expected in Washington on Friday in advance of the emir’s visit.
Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi emphasized the importance of “deepening ties between regional countries” in a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed, who invited the president to attend the Gas Exporting Countries Forum summit in February in Doha.
The lead US nuclear negotiator told Reuters on Sunday that securing the nuclear deal is unlikely unless Tehran releases four US citizens Washington says it is holding hostage.
While ruling out any US preconditions, Iran said on Monday that Tehran and Washington can reach “a lasting agreement on both separate paths (the Vienna talks and the prisoner exchange) if the other party has the will.”
Iranian officials have refused to comment on the matter, but Tehran has repeatedly said it is ready for a full prisoner exchange with Washington.
Tehran denies holding people for political reasons. It has accused many of the dual-nationals and foreigners in its jails of espionage.
Tehran says Iranians detained in the US, mostly for breaking sanctions, are being unjustly held.


UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state

UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state
Updated 28 January 2022

UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state

UAE leading model of global human solidarity: Vatican secretary of state
  • Cardinal Pietro Parolin was speaking during a phone call with UAE foreign minister
  • He expressed his solidarity with the UAE following a terrorist attack by Yemen’s Houthi militia

LONDON: The Vatican said the UAE is a leading model of global human solidarity, and its humanitarian initiatives help promote peaceful coexistence, tolerance and peace around the world, Emirati state news agency WAM reported on Thursday.
Speaking during a phone call with UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, expressed his solidarity with the UAE following a terrorist attack by Yemen’s Houthi militia on civilian facilities in the UAE capital.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia launched a number of drones and missiles toward Abu Dhabi on Jan. 17, which were intercepted and destroyed by the UAE defense ministry, however, remnants landed in separate areas around the capital, killing three people and injuring seven.
Parolin offered his sincere condolences to the victims of the attack, and wished the injured a speedy recovery.
Sheikh Abdullah thanked Parolin for his sentiments, and praised the Vatican’s outstanding role in serving humanitarian issues and promoting the values of tolerance and coexistence among all peoples.
Sheikh Abdullah also affirmed the UAE’s keenness to strengthen its relations with the Vatican across various levels.
Relations between the UAE and the Vatican have witnessed continuous growth, especially at the humanitarian level, after the Emirates hosted the Human Fraternity Meeting between Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church, and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyib in 2019.
During the meeting, the “Document on Human Fraternity” was signed to promote human relations, build bridges of communication, harmony and love between peoples, and tackle extremism.


UAE medical convoy of one million COVID-19 vaccines arrives in Gaza Strip

A Palestinian security officer stands at attention during the arrival of the Sputnik V vaccine, donated by the UAE, at a cold storage warehouse in Gaza City on Jan. 26, 2022. (AFP)
A Palestinian security officer stands at attention during the arrival of the Sputnik V vaccine, donated by the UAE, at a cold storage warehouse in Gaza City on Jan. 26, 2022. (AFP)
Updated 28 January 2022

UAE medical convoy of one million COVID-19 vaccines arrives in Gaza Strip

A Palestinian security officer stands at attention during the arrival of the Sputnik V vaccine, donated by the UAE, at a cold storage warehouse in Gaza City on Jan. 26, 2022. (AFP)
  • The Sputnik vaccines will be immediately distributed to vaccination centers to encourage Gazans to get vaccinated
  • It is the largest medical support convoy from the UAE for the Gaza Strip since the pandemic began

LONDON: A UAE medical convoy of COVID-19 vaccines arrived in the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing on Wednesday to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, Emirati state news agency WAM reported on Thursday.
The convoy, containing one million Sputnik shots, “is the largest medical support convoy from the UAE for the Gaza Strip since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.
The vaccines will be immediately distributed to vaccination centers to encourage Gazans to get vaccinated after the impoverished territory entered a fourth wave of the pandemic.
Ghazi Hamad, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Social Development, thanked the UAE for its assistance, which comes at a critical time, and said it would enhance the health sector’s ability to effectively confront the spread of the virus.
He was speaking during a press conference at the Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip after the arrival of the convoy.
Former Palestinian health minister Dr. Jawad Al-Tibi said the health sector is one of the most time-consuming sectors and great efforts are required to combat this global epidemic.
“The UAE sends aid after aid to support our steadfastness and to face difficulties and diseases in the Gaza Strip,” he said, adding: “This batch of Emirati aid comes at the right time to support the health sector and vaccinate students.”


US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts
Updated 28 January 2022

US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts

US envoy to Yemen holds talks in London to revive peace efforts
  • Talks focused on the urgent need for de-escalation and to address economic stability and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen
  • US says has to fully consider humanitarian implications to designating Houthis as terrorist entity

LONDON: The US envoy to Yemen Tim Lenderking held talks with senior UK and Gulf officials in London, as part of his first tour of 2022 to reinvigorate peace efforts in coordination with the UN.
During talks with the British Minister for Middle East and North Africa James Cleverly, the two sides stressed they are “committed to working together to advance a durable resolution to the Yemen conflict, help stabilize the economy, and support urgent steps to ease the humanitarian crisis.”
The US envoy also took part in a UK-hosted Quint meeting to discuss the situation in Yemen with senior representatives from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Britain, along with UN special envoy Hans Grundberg.

Lenderking was in Riyadh, the UAE and Oman last week, where he focused on the urgent need for de-escalation and the protection of all civilians, bringing the parties together to support a UN-led inclusive peace process, and doing more to address economic stability, humanitarian assistance access and fuel shortages, a State Department spokesperson told Arab News.
His visit comes as the Iran-backed Houthi militia have stepped up cross-border attacks against populated areas in Saudi Arabia and have attempted to strike the UAE capital twice in the last two weeks. The Houthis have also continued their brutal offensive on the Yemeni province of Marib, which has served as a safe haven for millions of internally displaced persons who have been fleeing the fighting since the conflict began in 2014.
The US has repeatedly pledged to continue to work with their partners in the region, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to help them defend against these deplorable Houthi attacks, the State Department said.

However, increased calls from regional allies are putting pressure on US President Joe Biden’s administration to relist the Houthis as a terrorist organization one year after it reversed a last-minute decision by former President Donald Trump to designate the militia.
“We will continue to work with our allies and partners in the region especially to promote accountability for the Houthis, for those Houthi leaders that have been behind these terrorist attacks,” the State Department said.
It added that the the Houthis’ redesignation as an “international terrorist organization” is “under review” and the US is expected to implement additional steps, including sanctions, to hold Houthi leaders accountable.
But when asked by Arab News about the possibility that the Biden administration will relist the militia, it said: “The United States remains committed to improving the humanitarian situation in Yemen and would have to fully consider the humanitarian implications.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price had also said that they not going to relent in designating Houthi leaders and entities involved in military offensives that threaten civilians and regional stability and perpetuate the conflict, who are responsible for some of the human rights abuses or the violations of international humanitarian law.
“When you talk about the humanitarian crisis, there is one actor that is primarily responsible for the suffering of the Yemeni people, the widespread suffering of the Yemeni people. And that is the Houthis,” Price told reporters at a press briefing.
He added they are using every appropriate tool to hold the Houthis to account.
The State Department reiterated the American condemnation of the Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE and said it remained committed to solving the Yemeni conflict.
“Helping advance a durable resolution that ends the conflict in Yemen, improves Yemeni lives, and creates the space for Yemenis to collectively determine their own future remains a top US foreign policy priority,” it said.