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Five U.S. Citizens Trapped in Starving Syrian Town of Madaya

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… As ‘400 Madaya residents need’ urgent evacuation

When a Syrian-American couple left their Pennsylvania home 10 years ago with their young children, they had plans to make lives in their native Madaya exporting fruit crops. When the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, they believed they would be safe.

Now, they are trapped — and starving.

“Right now, my kids are starving from hunger,” the mother said in a telephone interview with MSNBC on Monday. “My baby is 3 years old. All day long, the only words he says are: ‘I’m hungry. I need food.'”

Her husband and three of the couple’s five children are U.S. citizens and are among those caught inside the besieged western Syrian town, a U.S.-based Syrian activist who is a relative told MSNBC on Monday.

In all, there are at least five U.S. citizens there, said the activist, Hussein Assaf. He said they include his octogenarian grandmother, along with his 43-year-old cousin and three children, ages 14, 13 and 9. Assaf said a sixth relative in Madaya is also a U.S. citizen but MSNBC couldn’t immediately verify the claim.

Assaf asked that the relatives not be named to protect them, but he provided U.S. documentation — including passports, Social Security cards and birth certificates — as verification. MSNBC independently uncovered public records Monday showing that the cousin held addresses in Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2006.

Assaf said that his grandmother has never visited the United States but that she obtained citizenship during the 1990s through the U.S. Embassy in Damascus because her father had been a naturalized citizen.

Assaf’s cousin confirmed to MSNBC on Monday that he is a naturalized U.S. citizen and that three of his five children were born in Pennsylvania.

The man’s wife, speaking in English, said she and her husband left the United States in 2006 to start an apple export business — but now, she said, the family would like to leave and return to the United States.

More than two dozen people — including at least six under the age of 1 — have died of starvation since Dec. 1, according to Doctors Without Borders, which called the town an “open air prison” with no way in or out. Five people died Sunday.

The wife of Assaf’s cousin said in a telephone interview that her children also risk dying from starvation.

“Right now, my kids are starving from hunger,” she said. “My baby is 3 years old. All day long, the only words he says are: ‘I’m hungry, I need food.'”

A food convoy arrived Monday in Madaya. The woman said that she had been told that food would be distributed the next day but that she didn’t know how long it would last.

In the meantime, some 400 people in the besieged Syrian town of Madaya need to be urgently evacuated for medical treatment, says UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien.

After briefing the UN Security Council on the crisis in the rebel-held town near Damascus, he warned that those people could die.

Earlier, an aid convoy brought food to 40,000 town residents who have been under government siege for six months.

The UN says it has received credible reports of people dying of starvation.

Simultaneously, aid lorries entered two towns besieged by rebel forces in the northern province of Idlib under a deal between the warring parties.

The situation in Foah and Kefraya is also said to be extremely dire, with an estimated 20,000 people trapped there since March.

The arrival of the aid was delayed until both sets of lorries were ready to enter the towns.

Mr O’Brien was speaking at the UN headquarters in New York after the Security Council held an urgent meeting to discuss the crisis.

“I’ve just been told by the humanitarian co-ordinator, Yacoub El Hillo, that whilst he was at the hospital in Madaya he saw that there were around 400 people who must be evacuated immediately.

“We must seek to do this and put the arrangements in place as soon as possible for medical treatment. Or they are in grave peril of losing their lives and dying with either the causes being from malnutrition or for complications for other medical reasons,” Mr O’Brien said.

A few town residents were given permission to leave and could be seen with belongings awaiting evacuation.

In total, some 44 lorries operated by the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the Syrian Red Crescent and the World Food Programme (WFP) reached Madaya from Damascus on Monday.

The convoy brought in food and medicines, as well as blankets, shelter materials and soap.

The distribution of supplies was expected to continue through the night.

Pawel Krzysiek, who is with the ICRC in Madaya, said after arriving: “The people… were coming every five minutes asking, ‘Listen, did you bring food, did you bring medicine?’

“Some are smiling and waving at us but many are just simply too weak, with a very bleak expression, too tired.”

Mr El Hillo told the BBC that UN staff saw starving children in the town.

One resident, Hiba Abdel Rahman, 17, told the AFP: “For 15 days we have been eating only soup.

“I saw a young man killing cats and presenting the meat to members of his family as rabbit. Some people went through garbage bins, others ate grass. We sought food from the fighters but they refused to give it to us.”

Madaya, which is about 25km (15 miles) north-west of Damascus and 11km from the border with Lebanon, been besieged since early July by government forces and their allies in Lebanon’s Shia Islamist Hezbollah movement.

Meanwhile, 21 lorries on Monday entered Another entered Foah and Kefraya.

They were carrying basic food items – including rice, vegetable oil, flour, sugar and salt – as well as water, infant formula, blankets, medicines and surgical supplies.

NBC with additional report from BBC

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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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