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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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Three missionaries released in Haiti following October kidnapping

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December 7, 2021

By Katharine Jackson

(Reuters) – Three missionaries who were kidnapped in Haiti in October have been released, the U.S. State Department and the Ohio-based missionary group that organized the group’s trip to the Caribbean nation said on Monday.

“We are thankful to God that three more hostages were released last night. Those who were released are safe and seem to be in good spirits,” Ohio-based Christian Aid Ministries said in a statement.

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U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Monday confirmed the release, adding that the United States is continuing to work to secure the release of the others.

Haitian National Police spokesman Garry Desrosiers said the three were released on Sunday night. He declined to give additional details, citing the security of the remaining hostages.

Sixteen Americans and one Canadian, including five children, were abducted after visiting an orphanage. The incident has highlighted Haiti’s dire kidnapping problem, which has worsened in recent months amid economic troubles and political upheaval.

Two other ministry group members were released last month.

(Reporting by Katharine Jackson in Washington; Additional reporting by Gessika Thomas in Port-au-Prince; Editing by Susan Heavey and Matthew Lewis)

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Dutch court to rule on Palestinian’s case against Israeli defence minister

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December 7, 2021

By Stephanie van den Berg

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – An appeals court in the Netherlands rules on Tuesday in a case alleging war crimes against Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who is blamed by a Dutch Palestinian for the loss of six relatives in an Israeli air strike on Gaza in 2014.

Ismail Ziada filed the civil case against Gantz and another former senior Israeli military official, seeking unspecified damages under Dutch universal jurisdiction rules. His case was thrown out by a lower Dutch court in January 2020.

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Universal jurisdiction allows countries to prosecute serious offences such as war crimes and torture no matter where they were committed.

But the lower court ruled that the principles of universal jurisdiction could be applied for individual criminal responsibility, but not in civil cases.

Ziada appealed, arguing that universal jurisdiction should be applied in civil cases if the alleged conduct involved serious violations of international humanitarian law. He asked the appeals judges to reverse the decision, which effectively granted Gantz immunity from prosecution.

Gantz, a career soldier turned politician, was commander-in-chief of the Israeli armed forces during a war against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip in 2014, when the incident took place.

About 2,200 Palestinians are estimated to have been killed, up to 1,500 of them civilians, in the conflict, according to U.N. figures. Ziada said he lost relatives when his family home in Gaza was bombed during a June 2014 Israeli air strike. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and five civilians were killed.

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Gaza is controlled by the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, regarded by the West as a terrorist organization. Israel says Hamas puts civilians in harm’s way by deploying fighters and weaponry inside densely populated areas of Gaza. 

    Human rights groups have accused both sides of war crimes in the 2014 conflict. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently investigating alleged war crimes committed on Palestinian territory since June 2014 by both Israeli defence forces and Palestinian armed groups.

(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague with additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Mark Heinrich)

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Global finance system partly to blame for inequality – World Bank’s Malpass

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December 7, 2021

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – World Bank President David Malpass on Monday said fiscal and monetary policies were operating in “uncharted territory” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and may be contributing to a sharp rise in global inequality and poverty.

Malpass told a roundtable hosted by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang the number of people in extreme poverty had increased by over 100 million since the beginning of the pandemic even as global spending has increased to an all-time record.

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Advanced economies have rebounded, while the poorest countries had seen only a weak rebound, or none at all, he said. This was causing “tragic reversals” in median incomes, women’s empowerment and nutrition, he said, and inflation, supply chain bottlenecks, and high energy prices were aggravating these trends.

“Part of the inequality problem is global finance itself and the unequal structure of the stimulus,” Malpass said, noting that prevailing sovereign debt, fiscal and monetary policies were adding to inequality.

Malpass said monetary policy in the advanced economies had long focused on reserve requirement ratios and limited growth in bank reserves to achieve stability in currencies and prices, an approach still used by China.

Other major central banks had switched to a “post-monetarism system” of using very large amounts of excess bank reserves to purchase and hold long-duration bonds and other assets, which he said provided price support for a highly select group of assets.

That approach, he said, excluded small businesses and developing countries, while restraining policy through regulation of liquidity and bank capitalization ratios.

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Fiscal policy was also channeling resources to narrow groups within major borrowers, while leaving others behind, and sovereign debt policies were contributing to inequality.

Malpass repeated his call for greater transparency in debt contracts and a freeze in debt payments for countries with unsustainable debt. He said creditors should move away from collateral and escrow arrangements.

“As one of the largest creditors of developing countries, China’s active participation and strong voice in debt reduction efforts are very much needed and would benefit all participants by encouraging sustainable investment and debt,” he said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by David Gregorio)

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