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Trapped between airstrikes and locked gate, Syrian refugees are pawns in a wider war



Turkey angrily rejected demands Wednesday that it open its border to tens of thousands of Syrian refugees driven from their homes by relentless Russian airstrikes, saying that to do so would amount to complicity in the Russian-backed offensive to drive rebels out of the province of Aleppo.

The blunt acknowledgment that politics are part of the calculus in this latest humanitarian crisis in Syria underscores the dilemma confronting Turkey as it grapples with the prospect of a new refugee influx as well as the fear that hostile forces­ will overrun territory adjoining its border.

It was a reminder, too, of the ways in which civilians have routinely become pawns in the Syrian conflict, which has already displaced more than half the pre­war population and created a vast diaspora of nearly 5.5 million refugees beyond Syria’s borders.

The numbers could soon increase significantly if the Syrian government achieves its stated goal of encircling and eventually recapturing the provincial capital of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. Half of the city and much of the countryside have been under rebel control since 2012, but the intervention of Russia’s air force in September tilted the balance of power on the ground in favor of President Bashar al-Assad.

An offensive launched last week has succeeded already in severing a vital rebel supply route between the Turkish border and the rebel-held portion of Aleppo city, and also torpedoed fragile peace talks in Geneva that were suspended before they had begun. More than 500 people have been killed in the nine days since the battle began, many of them in the heavy Russian airstrikes that preceded the government loyalists’ advances­ on the ground, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

World powers are scheduled to meet in Munich on Thursday in an effort to salvage the peace process, but the intensified fighting has given little reason to hope that a breakthrough is near.

More than 50,000 people have fled the latest fighting, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The Turkish government said that more than 70,000 and up to 100,000 have been displaced by the battles and that as many as 600,000 could eventually flee the Aleppo region.

About 30,000 people have converged on the Turkish border in the past week to escape the new offensive. They have gathered at the Bab al-Salameh border crossing on the Syrian side just south of the Turkish city of Kilis. There they are being aided by the Turkish relief agency IHH, which has been shipping tents and meals across the border.

But some still are sleeping in muddy fields in temperatures that drop below zero at night, and conditions are miserable even for those sheltered in the tents, said Khalil Abdulrahman, a Syrian activist working with the refugees.

“It’s really cold. People don’t want to stay here. They just want to go to Turkey,” he said. If Turkey opened its border, the entire population of the province would probably flee, “and then the whole area will be empty.”

That is a major concern for Turkey. Allowing the refugees into Turkey would serve only to facilitate the Russian-backed effort to drive out the rebels and also the local, mostly Sunni population of northern Syria, which turned against Assad’s regime five years ago, top Turkish officials said.

“With every refugee that we accept, in a way, we would be contributing to this ethnic cleansing aim,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters during a visit to The Hague. “If this is a strategy to change the demography in Syria, then we all have to be vigilant against it.”

In the Turkish capital of Ankara, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called what was happening in northern Syria “a deportation” and “genocide.” He accused the international community of double standards in asking Turkey to admit refugees while most other countries in the world refuse to do so.

“We have taken 3 million Syrians and Iraqis into our home. How many did you take? Which country took them in? Are you mocking us?” he asked, pointing out that Turkey has spent $10 billion on housing refugees in recent years while the United Nations has contributed $455 million.

“Those who regard refugees as bogeymen have turned a blind eye, a deaf ear to the Assad regime, which is the reason for this problem,” he added.

The comments followed an appeal by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Tuesday to admit “all civilians who are fleeing danger and seeking international protection,” in accordance with international laws.

The New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch joined the appeals for Turkey to admit the refugees. “Forcing people to remain in a war zone, where they risk death and injury, is no solution to the challenge of protecting Syrians fleeing their country,” it said in a statement.

A victory for government forces­ in the Aleppo area would also put hostile forces­ up against the border of Turkey, which has been the region’s most vocal and active supporter of the rebellion to topple Assad. The loyalist force advancing on Aleppo is made up of government troops but also sizable numbers of allied Shiite militias from Iraq and Lebanon, as well as Iranian advisers with the Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Kurdish forces with the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, are also advancing in the area, another nightmare for Turkey at a time when it is waging its own war against separatist Kurds in southeastern Turkey.

The Kurdish dimension has further complicated U.S.-led efforts to forge a united front in the fight against the Islamic State and a peace settlement in Syria.

The United States’ growing friendship with the YPG is at the heart of a brewing dispute with Turkey that is jeopardizing cooperation between the allies in the war against the Islamic State. Turkey regards the YPG as a terrorist organization, but the United States, which has provided arms and air cover to the Kurdish militia to battle the Islamic State, does not.

Erdogan on Wednesday challenged the Obama administration to choose which ally to support. “Are you on our side or the side of the terrorist organizations?” he asked.


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



…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



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

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Wind Farm Vessel Collision Leaves 15 Injured



…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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ADEBAYO SARUMI: Doyen of Maritime Industry Marks 80th Anniversary, Saturday 

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