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Shipowners make payoffs to free vessels held by Indonesian navy near Singapore- sources

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November 14, 2021

By Joe Brock

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – More than a dozen shipowners have made payments of about $300,000 apiece to release vessels detained by the Indonesian navy, which said they were anchored illegally in Indonesian waters near Singapore, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

The dozen sources include shipowners, crew and maritime security sources all involved in the detentions and payments, which they say were either made in cash to naval officers or via bank transfer to intermediaries who told them they represented the Indonesian navy.

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Reuters was not able to independently confirm that payments were made to naval officers or establish who the final recipients of the payments were.

The detentions and payments were first reported by Lloyd’s List Intelligence, an industry website.

Rear Admiral Arsyad Abdullah, the Indonesian naval fleet commander for the region, said in a written response to Reuters’ questions that no payments were made to the navy and also that it did not employ any intermediaries in legal cases.

“It is not true that the Indonesian navy received or asked for payment to release the ships,” Abdullah said.

He said there had been an increasing number of detentions of ships in the past three months for anchoring without permission in Indonesian waters, deviating from the sailing route or stopping mid-course for an unreasonable amount of time. All the detentions were in accordance with Indonesian law, Abdullah said.

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The Singapore Strait, one of the busiest waterways in the world, is crowded with vessels waiting for days or weeks to dock at Singapore, a regional shipping hub where the COVID-19 pandemic has led to long delays.

(Graphic: Singapore’s waterways are among the busiest in the world – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/mypmnkaewvr/SingaporeWaterways.png)

Ships have for years anchored in waters to the east of the Strait while they wait to port, believing they are in international waters and therefore not responsible for any port fees, two maritime analysts and two shipowners said.

The Indonesian navy says this area comes within its territorial waters and it intends to crack down harder on vessels anchoring there without a licence.

A spokesperson for the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, a government agency, declined to comment.

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CRAMPED DETENTION

Around 30 ships, including tankers, bulk carriers and a pipeline layer, have been detained by the Indonesian navy in the last three months and the majority have since been released after making payments of $250,000 to $300,000, according to two shipowners and two maritime security sources involved.

Making these payments is cheaper than potentially losing out on revenue from ships carrying valuable cargo, like oil or grain, if they are tied up for months while a case is heard in Indonesian court, two shipowners said.

Two crew members of detained ships said armed navy sailors approached their vessels on warships, boarded them and escorted the ships to naval bases on Batam or Bintan, Indonesian islands south of Singapore, across the Strait.

The ship captains and often crew members were detained in cramped, sweltering rooms, sometimes for weeks, until shipowners organised cash to be delivered or a bank transfer was made to an intermediary of the navy, two detained crew members said.

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Abdullah, the Indonesian naval officer, said ship crew members were not detained.

“During the legal process, all crew of the ships were on board their ships, except for questioning at the naval base. After the questioning, they were sent back to the ships,” he said.

(Graphic: Path of vessels that were detained near Singapore and then released by Indonesian authorities – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/dwvkrezolpm/VesselPathfromIndonesia.png)

Stephen Askins, a London-based maritime lawyer who has advised owners whose vessels have been detained in Indonesia, said the navy was entitled to protect its waters but if a ship was detained, then some form of prosecution should follow.

“In a situation where the Indonesian navy seems to be detaining vessels with an intention to extort money it is difficult to see how such a detention could be lawful,” Askins told Reuters in an email. He declined to give details about his clients.

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Marine Lieutenant Colonel La Ode Muhamad Holib, an Indonesian navy spokesperson, told Reuters in a written response to questions that some vessels detained in the last three months had been released without charge due to insufficient evidence.

Five ship captains were being prosecuted and two others had been given short prison sentences and fined 100 million rupiah ($7,000) and 25 million rupiah, respectively, Holib said, declining to elaborate further on the specific cases.

($1 = 14,240 rupiah)

(Reporting by Joe Brock in Singapore; additional reporting by David Lewis in Nairobi; graphics by Gavin Maguire; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Iran plays hardball as nuclear talks with world powers resume

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November 29, 2021

By Francois Murphy, Parisa Hafezi and John Irish

VIENNA (Reuters) -Iran and world powers resumed talks on Monday after a five-month hiatus to try to salvage their 2015 nuclear deal but with Tehran sticking to its tough stance and Western powers warning that will not work, hopes of a breakthrough appeared slim.

Diplomats say time is running out to resurrect the pact, which then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, angering Iran and dismaying the other powers involved – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.

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Six rounds of indirect talks were held between April and June. The new round formally began with a meeting of the remaining parties to the deal, without the United States, shortly after 1400 GMT.

The meeting in Vienna ended an extended break triggered by the election of hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi in June as Iran’s president. The talks are effectively indirect negotiations between Tehran and Washington since Iran refuses to meet face to face with U.S. envoys. Other officials shuttle between them.

Tehran’s negotiating team has set out demands that U.S. and European diplomats consider unrealistic, Western diplomats say.

“Our demands are clear. Other parties and especially Americans should decide whether they want this deal to be revived or not. They abandoned the pact, so they should return to it and lift all sanctions,” an Iranian official close to the talks told Reuters.

Iran has adopted an uncompromising position by demanding removal of all U.S. and European Union sanctions imposed since 2017, including those unrelated to its nuclear programme, in a verifiable process.

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“The United States still fails to properly understand the fact that there is no way to return to the deal without a verifiable and effective lifting of all sanctions,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said in a statement shortly after the talks resumed.

“The return of the U.S. to the nuclear deal would be meaningless without guarantees to prevent the recurrence of the bitter experience of the past,” he said. “This opportunity is not a window that can remain open forever.”

TENSIONS

In parallel, Tehran’s conflicts with the U.N. atomic watchdog, which monitors its nuclear programme, have festered.

As Iran has advanced its uranium enrichment, the International Atomic Energy Agency says its inspectors have been treated roughly and refused access to reinstall monitoring cameras at a site it deems essential to reviving the deal.

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“If Iran thinks it can use this time to build more leverage and then come back and say they want something better, it simply won’t work. We and our partners won’t go for it,” U.S. envoy Robert Malley told BBC Sounds on Saturday.

Since Trump took the United States out of the deal, Iran has breached many of its restrictions meant to lengthen the time it would need to generate enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb https://www.reuters.com/news/picture/explainer-what-remains-of-the-iran-nucle-idUSKBN2ID0E4. Iran says it wants to enrich uranium only for civil uses.

Malley warned that Washington would be ready to ramp up pressure on Tehran if the talks collapse.

Diplomats have said Washington has suggested negotiating an open-ended interim accord with Tehran as long as a permanent deal is not achieved. Several Iranian officials told Reuters Iran had no intention of accepting an interim deal.

Iran’s arch-enemy Israel, which opposed the original deal as too limited in scope and duration, has said military options will be on the table if diplomacy fails.

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“They (Iranians) will play for time, earn billions from the removal of sanctions, continue to deceive the world, and covertly advance their nuclear programme,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told reporters in London https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israels-lapid-urges-world-keep-up-pressure-iran-2021-11-29.

“The intelligence is clear. It leaves no doubt.”

(Writing by John Irish and Parisa Hafezi Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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U.N. chief concerned about southern Africa isolation over Omicron

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November 29, 2021

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was deeply concerned about the isolation of southern African countries after COVID-19 travel restrictions were imposed by several countries over the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.

“I appeal to all governments to consider repeated testing for travelers, together with other appropriate and truly effective measures, with the objective of avoiding the risk of transmission so as to allow for travel and economic engagement,” Guterres said in a statement.

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The Omicron variant of coronavirus carries a very high global risk of surges https://www.reuters.com/world/spread-omicron-variant-forces-nations-rethink-plans-global-travel-2021-11-29, the World Health Organization warned on Monday, as more countries reported cases.

Omicron was first identified in southern Africa and many countries, including the United States and Britain, have announced travel curbs and other restrictions on the region. Africa has some of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates worldwide due to a lack of access to doses.

Guterres has long warned about the dangers of vaccine inequality around the world and that low immunization rates are “a breeding ground for variants.”

“The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world,” he said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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Belarus announces military drills with Russia near Ukraine border

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November 29, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Belarus on Monday announced joint military drills with close ally Russia on its southern border with Ukraine and accused the NATO military alliance of building up offensive capabilities near its borders.

U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials say Russia has built up forces near Ukraine, sparking fears of a looming attack. Moscow denies any such plan. Belarus is itself locked in a row with the European Union over migrants camped at its western border.

Casting it as a response to new military deployments in countries to the west and south of Belarus, Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin said Minsk would hold an exercise with Russia in the “medium term”. He gave no specific date.

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“We see troop formations around our state borders… We can only be concerned by the militarisation of our neighouring countries, which is why are forced to plan measures in response,” he said in comments on his ministry’s website.

NATO member Lithuania, which lies to the west of Belarus, said on Sunday the Atlantic alliance needed to adjust its stance towards Belarus, whose military, it said, was becoming more integrated with Russia’s armed forces.

On Monday, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko said Minsk would not sit idly on the sidelines if the simmering conflict in eastern Ukraine erupted or a war broke out with the West at Russia’s borders.

“…it is clear whose side Belarus will be on,” he said in a clear nod to Russia, whose financial and political backing helped him weather huge protests against his rule that broke out last autumn.

“They understand this, that’s why they’ve begun strengthening their northern Belarus-Ukraine border,” Lukashenko was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

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The comments appeared to contrast with the more neutral stance taken by Lukashenko after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its backing for separatist forces in Ukraine’s east.

Minsk, like most of the world, still recognises Crimea as Ukrainian territory.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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