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Barack Obama turns up pressure on Putin over Syria

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  • Disease kills over 30 children in remote Myanmar

US President Barack Obama warned Russia faces fierce international rebuke if it continues to make common cause with Syria`s brutal regime, signaling a renewed push to end the bloody five-year civil war Thursday.

Obama said Russia risked casting itself as an “irresponsible actor” on the world stage, after meeting with top aides at the Pentagon.

Eying a looming humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo — the besieged northwestern city of 250,000 people that was once Syria`s commercial hub — Obama said it was “time for Russia to show that it is serious” about bringing peace.

For five years Russian President Vladimir Putin has steadfastly supported the regime of Bashar al-Assad, offering international cover, military aid and in the last year carrying out its own strikes in anti-Assad areas.

Without material Russian and Iranian support it is doubtful Assad could have held on to power.
Putin has shown little sign of ending that support through multiple rounds of international talks.

“I`m not confident that we can trust the Russians or Vladimir Putin,” Obama said. “Which is why we have to test whether or not we can get an actual cessation of hostilities.”

The United States hopes renewing a failed ceasefire would prevent a bloodbath in Aleppo, allow humanitarian aid missions to resume and open the door for negotiations that would end the civil war and turn the focus to defeating the Islamic State.

The White House is betting that Putin`s preoccupation with Russia`s position on the world stage could lead to a rethink before he travels to the G20 in China and UN General Assembly in New York next month.

Putin`s decision to annex Ukraine`s Crimea and support separatist forces in the east of that country have led to international sanctions and to Russia being expelled from the G8, much to the Russian leader`s chagrin.

If the renewed ceasefire does not stick, Obama said “Russia will have shown itself very clearly to be an irresponsible actor on the world stage that is supporting a murderous regime, and will have to answer to that on the international stage.”

“Russia may not be able to get there, either because they don`t want to, or because they don`t have sufficient influence over Assad. And, that`s what we`re going to test,” Obama said.

As reports surfaced of a Russian raid killing two Syrian children and wounding dozens at a refugee camp near Aleppo, Obama said “Russia`s direct involvement in these actions over the last several weeks raises very serious questions about their commitment.”But it is not just Russia`s reputation that is on the line in Syria.

By using chemical weapons, Assad crossed what Obama had said would be a “red line” — only for the United States to never follow through on any attack.

Russian bombing of US trained groups in Syria has also dramatically undermined Washington`s moral and military standing.

Critics accuse the Obama administration of failing to stand up for its allies and failing in its duty to protect innocent civilians from withering bombings.

As the country has fallen apart the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda affiliated groups and other assorted jihadists have flourished and a refugee crisis has destabilized the region and Europe.

Obama`s political foes have accused his policies of leading to the growth of the Islamic State into a group that now carries out attacks in the United States and Europe with regularity.

Obama, who came to office promising to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has hit the Islamic State with airstrikes and commando raids, but has steadfastly refused to bomb Assad or start another ground war in the Middle East.

On Thursday he admitted that Syria had been one of the most testing issues of his presidency, which will end in January.

“I`ve been wrestling with this thing now for a lot of years,” he said. “I am pretty confident that a big chunk of my gray hair comes out of my Syria meetings.”

“There is not a meeting that I do not end by saying is there something else that we could be doing that we haven`t thought of? Is there a plan `F,` `G,` `H,` that we think would lead to a resolution of this issue.”After meeting with advisors at the Pentagon, Obama said the Islamic State group would “inevitably” be crushed and said the US-led coalition would continue to aggressively target the jihadists “across every front.”

But “the decline of ISIL in Syria and Iraq appears to be causing it to shift to tactics that we`ve seen before — an even greater emphasis on encouraging high-profile terrorist attacks, including in the United States,” Obama warned, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

The jihadists swept across vast parts of northern Syria and Iraq in 2014, leaving a trail of human butchery and horrific destruction in their wake.

Since then, the coalition has conducted daily plane and drone strikes — more than 14,000 so far — and worked with local forces on the ground to gradually reclaim the seized territory.

Despite the massive effort, the jihadists still hold Mosul — Iraq`s second-largest city — and the Syrian city of Raqa.

Earlier this week Obama announced a new front in the war, ordering airstrikes against Islamic State jihadists` positions in Sirte, Libya.

In the meantime, an undiagnosed disease has killed more than 30 children in a remote part of Myanmar, officials said Thursday, with health authorities struggling to treat victims.

The illness, with measles-like symptoms, has hit the far corner of Myanmar’s northern Sagaing region, a remote and mountainous area which borders eastern India and is populated by people from the Naga tribes.

Adults and children have both been struck since the outbreak first emerged in June, a local MP said, but the illness appears to be particularly deadly to children under the age of five.

“Altogether 23 children were have been killed in Lahal township and 13 killed in Nan Yon township since June because of this unknown disease,” Law Yon, a regional MP from Naga self-administrative region told AFP.

“Rashes came out on their bodies, they have a fever and difficulty breathing because of coughing. Blood also comes out while coughing,” he said.

Some 200 people so far have come down with the disease, he said, adding that central authorities have been slow to react.

A health ministry official in the capital Naypyidaw confirmed the outbreak, including more than 30 deaths, and said tests were being carried out.

“We assume at an initial stage it’s a measles outbreak or strong influenza. But we can definitely say only when we get the result from laboratory,” the official said, requesting anonymity.

The outbreak highlights how vulnerable Myanmar’s more remote populations are in a country where healthcare was never prioritised under decades of brutal and inept junta rule.

It is one of the many crippling legacies that the newly installed civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to tackle.

Although budgets slightly increased in the last few years of outright army rule — which ended with last November’s elections — Myanmar is still one of the lowest spenders on healthcare as a share of GDP.

According to the latest World Bank figures health spending increased from 0.2 percent to just over 1 percent of GDP from 2009 to 2013 despite being one of the world’s fastest growing economies.

In contrast 4.3 percent of GDP in 2014 went to the military, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Zeenews with additional report from MSN

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WAIVER CESSATION: Igbokwe urges NIMASA to evolve stronger collaboration with Ships owners

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…Stresses the need for timely disbursement of N44.6billion CVFF***

Highly revered Nigerian Maritime Lawyer, and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mike Igbokwe has urged the Nigeria Maritime Administration and safety Agency (NIMASA) to partner with ship owners and relevant association in the industry to evolving a more vibrant merchant shipping and cabotage trade regime.

Igbokwe gave the counsel during his paper presentation at the just concluded two-day stakeholders’ meeting on Cabotage waiver restrictions, organized by NIMASA.

“NIMASA and shipowners should develop merchant shipping including cabotage trade. A good start is to partner with the relevant associations in this field, such as the Nigeria Indigenous Shipowners Association (NISA), Shipowners Association of Nigeria (SOAN), Oil Trade Group & Maritime Trade Group of the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA).

“A cursory look at their vision, mission and objectives, show that they are willing to improve the maritime sector, not just for their members but for stakeholders in the maritime economy and the country”.

Adding that it is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a through briefing and regular consultation with ships owners, in other to have insight on the challenges facing the ship owners.

“It is of utmost importance for NIMASA to have a thorough briefing and regular consultations with shipowners, to receive insight on the challenges they face, and how the Agency can assist in solving them and encouraging them to invest and participate in the maritime sector, for its development. 

“NIMASA should see them as partners in progress because, if they do not invest in buying ships and registering them in Nigeria, there would be no Nigerian-owned ships in its Register and NIMASA would be unable to discharge its main objective.

The Maritime lawyer also urged NIMASA  to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (CVFF)that currently stands at about N44.6 billion.

“Lest it be forgotten, what is on the lips of almost every shipowner, is the need to disburse the Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (the CVFF’), which was established by the Coastal and Inland Shipping Act, 2003. It was established to promote the development of indigenous ship acquisition capacity, by providing financial assistance to Nigerian citizens and shipping companies wholly owned by Nigerian operating in the domestic coastal shipping, to purchase and maintain vessels and build shipping capacity. 

“Research shows that this fund has grown to about N44.6billion; and that due to its non-disbursement, financial institutions have repossessed some vessels, resulting in a 43% reduction of the number of operational indigenous shipping companies in Nigeria, in the past few years. 

“Without beating around the bush, to promote indigenous maritime development, prompt action must be taken by NIMASA to commence the disbursement of this Fund to qualified shipowners pursuant to the extant Cabotage Vessel Financing Fund (“CVFF”) Regulations.

Mike Igbokwe (SAN)

“Indeed, as part of its statutory functions, NIMASA is to enforce and administer the provisions of the Cabotage Act 2003 and develop and implement policies and programmes which will facilitate the growth of local capacity in ownership, manning and construction of ships and other maritime infrastructure. Disbursing the CVFF is one of the ways NIMASA can fulfill this mandate.

“To assist in this task, there must be collaboration between NIMASA, financial institutions, the Minister of Transportation, as contained in the CVFF Regulations that are yet to be implemented”, the legal guru highlighted further. 

He urged the agency to create the right environment for its stakeholders to build on and engender the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders.

“Lastly, which is the main reason why we are all here, cessation of ministerial waivers on some cabotage requirements, which I believe is worth applause in favour of NIMASA. 

“This is because it appears that the readiness to obtain/grant waivers had made some of the vessels and their owners engaged in cabotage trade, to become complacent and indifferent in quickly ensuring that they updated their capacities, so as not to require the waivers. 

“The cessation of waivers is a way of forcing the relevant stakeholders of the maritime sector, to find workable solutions within, for maritime development and fill the gaps in the local capacities in 100% Nigerian crewing, ship ownership, and ship building, that had necessitated the existence of the waivers since about 15 years ago, when the Cabotage Act came into being. 

“However, NIMASA must ensure that the right environment is provided for its stakeholders to build and possess the needed capacities to fill the gaps; and ensure that steps are being taken to solve the challenges being faced by stakeholders. Or better still, that they are solved within the next 5 years of its intention to stop granting waivers”, he further explained. 

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Breaking News: The Funeral Rites of Matriarch C. Ogbeifun is Live

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The Burial Ceremony of Engr. Greg Ogbeifun’s mother is live. Watch on the website: www.maritimefirstnewspaper.com and on Youtube: Maritimefirst Newspaper.

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Wind Farm Vessel Collision Leaves 15 Injured

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…As Valles Steamship Orders 112,000 dwt Tanker from South Korea***

A wind farm supply vessel and a cargo ship collided in the Baltic Sea on Tuesday leaving 15 injured.

The Cyprus-flagged 80-meter general cargo ship Raba collided with Denmark-flagged 31-meter wind farm supply vessel World Bora near Rügen Island, about three nautical miles off the coast of Hamburg. 

Many of those injured were service engineers on the wind farm vessel, and 10 were seriously hurt. 

They were headed to Iberdrola’s 350MW Wikinger wind farm. Nine of the people on board the World Bora were employees of Siemens Gamesa, two were employees of Iberdrola and four were crew.

The cause of the incident is not yet known, and no pollution has been reported.

After the collision, the two ships were able to proceed to Rügen under their own power, and the injured were then taken to hospital. 

Lifeboat crews from the German Maritime Search and Rescue Service tended to them prior to their transport to hospital via ambulance and helicopter.

“Iberdrola wishes to thank the rescue services for their diligence and professionalism,” the company said in a statement.

In the meantime, the Hong Kong-based shipowner Valles Steamship has ordered a new 112,000 dwt crude oil tanker from South Korea’s Sumitomo Heavy Industries Marine & Engineering.

Sumitomo is to deliver the Aframax to Valles Steamship by the end of 2020, according to data provided by Asiasis.

The newbuild Aframax will join seven other Aframaxes in Valles Steamship’s fleet. Other ships operated by the company include Panamax bulkers and medium and long range product tankers.

The company’s most-recently delivered unit is the 114,426 dwt Aframax tanker Seagalaxy. The naming and delivery of the tanker took place in February 2019, at Namura Shipbuilding’s yard in Japan.

Maritime Executive with additional report from World Maritime News

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