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Turkish Journalists Slam EU For ‘Turning A Blind Eye’ To Crackdown On Free Press

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  •  CJN backs Frivolous Petition Bill

Just as the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi was undertaking a visionary attempting to merge all maritime journalists association into one, and the world leaders convened in Brussels on Monday for a landmark European Union-Turkey summit focused on the migrant crisis, journalists in Turkey slammed the EU for “turning a blind eye” to the country’s attempts to suppress its free press.

Late Friday, Turkish authorities raided the country’s leading newspaper, Zaman, turning what had been a media outlet critical of the government into a virtual state mouthpiece overnight. Clashes ensued, with police tear-gassing demonstrators gathered outside Zaman’s office to protest censorship and express solidarity with the newspaper staff.

Just three days later, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu shook hands with EU heads of state during a tense round of talks addressing the high volume of migrants and refugees using Turkey as a transit point to Europe. There seemed to be only whispers of Friday’s flagrant disregard for press freedom.

The EU has reportedly promised Turkey $6 billion — double what it pledged to give the country this winter — to support the more than 2.7 million Syrian refugees currently living in the country. While hundreds of thousands of refugees have made the long and dangerous journey to Europe, much of the burden in the last five years has been placed on Turkey to support the seemingly endless flow of men, women and children fleeing war.

As part of the deal, the EU expects Turkey to further crack down on smugglers and allow NATO ships to return refugees and migrants to Turkish shores. In addition to funds, Ankara has demanded accelerated EU membership talks and placed priority on visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

Several EU leaders reportedly spoke frankly with Davutoglu about recent worrying events regarding press freedom in Turkey.

“It’s too little too late,” one reporter at Today’s Zaman, a sister newspaper of Zaman that was also seized on Friday, said of the EU’s limited condemnation of Turkey’s track record on press freedom. “The EU is really turning a blind eye to Western values that Turkey should be fulfilling if they want to continue talks with the EU.”

“There is no freedom of expression left in Turkey,” said the journalist, who spoke to The WorldPost on the condition of anonymity and fears retaliation from the Turkish government after having had articles cut from the Sunday edition of the newspaper.

An EU spokesperson on Saturday stressed that Turkey, as an EU candidate country, “needs to respect and promote high democratic standards and practices, including freedom of the media.” And on Monday, French President Francois Hollande insisted that EU states’ cooperation with Turkey did not translate to blind acceptance.

“The press must be free everywhere, including in Turkey,” he said.

But so far, as Turkey has moved deeper into talks with the EU, there seems to be no letting up on state crackdowns on dissidents and critics.

“The EU is aware that the only way of coping with the refugee problem is not to make Turkey angry and comply with its priorities,” said Gulten Ustuntag, an employee of Today’s Zaman. None of the articles she has written since Friday have been approved by the Istanbul court-appointed newspaper trustees, she said.

Staffers at the paper say they are waiting to be fired, in hopes that they can at least receive severance pay.

Zaman has ties to Fethullah Gülen, a former ally-turned-arch nemesis of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a controversial and powerful figure who served as prime minister for over a decade before voters elected him as president in August 2014.

Erdogan accuses the cleric, who now lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, of attempting to undermine and overthrow the Turkish government.

While the war in Syria has decimated its neighbor, Turkey has remained relatively stable and a refuge for people fleeing slaughter. But recently, Ankara has had to come to terms with its own domestic dangers, from renewed clashes with Kurdish militants known for their often-violent fight for greater freedoms to suicide bombers from the self-described Islamic State detonating on Turkish soil.

At a roundtable discussion with foreign press at Ankara’s presidential palace at Feb. 26, spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said it was “not easy to strike a perfect balance” between national security and freedom of press. He defended Turkey’s track record, saying “fact and fiction get mixed up all the time” in journalism.

A spokesman for the Turkish government did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding Friday’s seizure of Zaman.

“Ankara has been using the refugee issue as a card against European leaders in order to silence them about the violations in Turkey,” Zaman’s managing editor Celil Sagir told The WorldPost by phone from his office, where there has been a heavy police presence since Friday.

Journalists at Zaman and Today’s Zaman watched the meeting in Brussels from afar, unsure of their own fates and furious over the seeming lack of outcry. Some worry they will end up in court or prison if they continue to speak out.

“Where will we go and work?” Sagir said, alluding to fact that there are barely any independent media outlets able to challenge the Turkish government. “I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

In the meantime, Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, yesterday, threw his weight behind the proposed frivolous petition bill 2015, saying when finally passed into law, it would help protect everyone in the country.

The CJN, who urged all Nigerians to support the bill, said it was not designed to gag the media or infringe on the rights and privileges of Nigerians, adding that the bill would bring the constitutional provision of freedom of opinion within bounds and not at large.

Speaking yesterday at a one- day public hearing organized by the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters on Frivolous Petitions Bill, 2015, the Chief Justice of Nigeria noted that the reason behind the proposed bill was very laudable and auspicious.

He said:   “This is because by the very use of the word frivolous, it connotes unseriousness, ill-motivation and suggestive of bad faith which is not within the contemplation of the constitutional provision of freedom of expression.

Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mahmud Mohammed “The measure to curb the excesses is, however, not meant to serve the purpose of denial of access to information, nor is it meant to do away with checks on the executive, legislative and judicial recklessness as well as accountability of stewardship in all facets of public office.

“The aim of the bill should be for the purpose of ensuring that whatever information is disseminated to the public, must come from a legitimate, genuine and a known source which is identifiable and meant to safeguard the best interest of the general public for purpose of good administration and governance. ‘’In other words, it is to check against information given in bad faith, with the intention to serve ulterior motives.  I wish to add quickly that the most difficult war to fight is where it is waged against a faceless opponent.”

Represented by a Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Clara Bata Ogunbiyi, Justice Mohammed said the bill when passed, would saveguard the rights and privileges provided under the constitution against all forms of frivolous abuse for whatever reason and from wherever direction whatsoever.

He said: “For purpose of ensuring that only genuine and profitable complaints/petitions are lodged against individuals, corporate entities and the government. It will serve the purpose of verifying the origin, and authenticity of the complaint and the complainant; serve to bring out the merits or demerits of the petition; serve to reveal the relationship of the parties and also the duration of association. ‘’It spells out the benefit and what interest are to derive from the petition. It serves as a caveat/notice to the 3rd party users of information.”

The CJN, who noted that frivolous petitions had been the order of the day across board in all tiers of government, said although freedom of speech and, freedom of expression all exist within its ambit of the constitution as laudable as it might seem, stressed, however, that there must be limits to adhere to them, especially with the exuberant, frivolous and unguarded write-ups in the print media, social media platform, such as  Facebook and Twitter.

According to him, the right to freedom in Nigeria has been overlooked, while many established democracies across the world have enacted freedom of information regime.

“Before now, Nigerians regarded freedom of information as a luxury which was only practicable in the Western world. Citizens must rely on confirmed reports. In a country where freedom of information act is in operation, anyone can make a request for information.” he said.

It will be recalled that since   the bill was presented before the Senate by the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, APC, Kebbi South, the bill has attracted a lot of opposition and angst from Nigerians.

MSN with additional report from Vanguard

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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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