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North Korea, again, demands halt to US-South Korea war games

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  • As Trump says: Punish women for illegal abortions, then back-tracks

It’s a demand North Korea has been making for decades: The United States and South Korea must immediately suspend their annual military exercises if there is to be peace on the Korean Peninsula. And, once again, it’s a demand that is falling on deaf ears. Following the North’s recent nuclear test and rocket launch, this year’s exercises are bigger than ever.

In the Koreas, the cycle of tensions is as predictable as the changing of the seasons — they surge every spring, when Washington and Seoul hold their annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises. This year’s drills, which are to continue through April, are not only bigger but also reportedly include for the first time training for precision strikes directed at the North’s leadership and Kim Jong Un himself.

In the eyes of North Korea’s ruling regime, that is a bridge too far.

Even before the exercises began, North Korea’s formidable propaganda machine had been churning out articles every day condemning the United States and South Korea in the strongest terms, displaying nuclear bomb and missile mock-ups and warning it is ready at any time to launch a pre-emptive strike against the presidential residence in South Korea or even a nuclear attack on the U.S. mainland.

Nightly news programs have been dominated by videos of leader Kim watching North Korea’s own drills, replete with large-scale artillery arrays firing barrages from beachfront positions into the ocean and repeated claims that the North now has an H-bomb — which it says it tested in January — and a means of taking the war to the U.S. mainland.

“This isn’t just military training,” Kim Il Sun, a teacher at the Pyongyang Tourism University, said of the U.S.-South Korea military activities going on just south of the Demilitarized Zone as she headed home after work on Wednesday.

“These are war exercises aimed at a nuclear war against our country,” she said. “They are preparing to attack us.”

Gauging the true level of concern among North Koreans as their government whips up anti-U.S. and anti-Seoul feelings is always difficult.

North Korea has been in a state of virtual martial law since its founding and North Koreans are accustomed to the rise and fall of tensions and the threat — real or perceived — that their country is on the verge of being invaded. Apart from the war-like talk on the news and the more-than-usual number of missile and rocket tests, life in the capital continues to be business as usual, although the whole nation has been mobilized for a 70-day loyalty drive aimed at boosting production ahead of a major political meeting to be headed by Kim in May.

There are also strong signals that North Korea doesn’t see the situation as serious enough to go to war over.

Despite threats it is fully prepared to carry out a pre-emptive strike and conduct a “sacred war of reunification,” the government has repeatedly insisted it will only attack if provoked. Ultimately, it says, what it really wants is to sit down with the United States to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, which concluded in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Such talk has always been a non-starter in Washington.

The longstanding U.S. demand has been that North Korea must either give up its nuclear program or verifiably demonstrate it is willing to do so before any serious discussions can begin. North Korea wants talks first since it says the threat of a U.S. invasion is what forced it to develop a nuclear deterrent to begin with.

Washington did suspend an earlier version of the joint military exercises in an attempt to make progress with North Korea.

But that was back in 1992 and there is no sign of that happening again soon, with tensions on the Korean Peninsula worse than usual and the U.S. and South Korea leading efforts to impose new sanctions on the North.

In the meantime, officials here say, the ball is in Washington’s court.

Jon Min Dok, director of the Institute for Disarmament and Peace, part of North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told an AP Television News crew in a rare interview this week that “as long as the U.S. persists in its moves to stifle our socialist system” North Korea has no intention of backing down.

“We consider that keeping the balance of force by bolstering our nuclear forces is the only way effectively to deter the persistent nuclear threat and war provocations from the U.S.,” he said.

In the meantime, Presidential candidate Donald Trump briefly called for “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions, if abortion became illegal.

His initial comments made during a town hall event with cable network MSNBC sparked a wave of criticism.

However, Mr Trump quickly reversed his position, saying only the person who performed the abortion should be punished.

But he maintained: “My position has not changed.”

The front-runner supports a ban on abortions, with certain exceptions.

Abortion has been legal in the United States since 1973 after a landmark Supreme Court ruling.

Only the Supreme Court or a constitutional amendment has the power to overturn Roe v Wade and make abortion illegal.

Once a Democrat, Mr Trump has been criticised for supporting abortion rights in the past.

The Republican party’s official position is that abortion should be illegal. Conservative politicians and anti-abortion activists who view abortion as akin to murder, however, tend to avoid outlining any criminal punishment for women who undergo the procedure, instead targeting the doctors responsible.

The reason for this is simple – to make abortion bans more acceptable to a general public that does not want to see possibly distraught women grappling with unwanted pregnancies sent to prison.

Donald Trump, as he is wont to do, just trampled through this carefully constructed conservative political dance with all the grace of a rhinoceros at a tea party. Thanks to his assertion, after prodding, that women should face “some form of punishment” for having an illegal abortion, the conservative pro-life movement is going to be forced to defend their beliefs on uncomfortable ground. Republican candidates will be asked, again and again, to defend or denounce Mr Trump’s comments.

This is exactly the kind of scenario that terrifies Republican politicians about Mr Trump as their party’s nominee. His ill-considered remarks and shoot-from-the-hip approach to media interviews could be a political minefield for their candidates in the autumn.

In all likelihood it’s just a taste of things to come.

However, some anti-abortion groups criticised Mr Trump’s initial comments as extreme.

“Mr Trump’s comment today is completely out of touch with the pro-life movement and even more with women who have chosen such a sad thing as abortion,” said Jeanne Mancini, President of the March for Life Education and Defense Fund.

“No pro-lifer would ever want to punish a woman who has chosen abortion.”

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has been an outspoken critic of Mr Trump’s stance on women’s issues.

“Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse. Horrific and telling,” said Mrs Clinton after his latest comments.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Mr Trump’s closest rival in the Republican race, also condemned the billionaire.

“Once again Donald Trump has demonstrated that he hasn’t seriously thought through the issues, and he’ll say anything just to get attention,” Mr Cruz said.

His spokesman Brian Phillips added on Twitter: “Don’t overthink it: Trump doesn’t understand the pro-life position because he’s not pro-life.”

MSN 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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