Sri Lanka to join US-led naval operations against Houthis in Red Sea

1 / 2
In this image obtained fro the US Department of Defense, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon approaches the oiler USNS Kanawha (background) for replenishment-at-sea operation in the Red Sea on December 25, 2023. (AFP)
2 / 2
In this image obtained fro the US Department of Defense, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Laboon transits the Suez Canal on December 18, 2023. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 09 January 2024
Follow

Sri Lanka to join US-led naval operations against Houthis in Red Sea

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka: Debt-ridden Sri Lanka's navy is preparing to join a US-led operation to protect merchant vessels sailing in the Red Sea against attacks by Houthi militants, a Sri Lankan navy spokesman said on Tuesday.
The attacks by Houthis have targeted commercial shipping vessels transiting through the critical Bab el-Mandeb Strait that links markets in Asia and Europe following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and Israel’s subsequent war against the militant group in Gaza.
The US and its allies launched Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect ship traffic, and warships from the US, France, and the UK are patrolling the area.
No date has been set for sending the Sri Lankan ships and the area they will patrol has not been finalized, said navy spokesman Capt. Gayan Wickramasuriya.
The decision to send the ships drew criticism from opposition lawmakers in the island nation. Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa blamed the government for spending LKR 250 million ($777,000) to send ships to fight Houthi rebels in the Red Sea when Sri Lankans are experiencing severe economic hardships at home.
State Minister of Defense Pramitha Tennakoon defended the move, saying the government wants to fulfill its “global responsibilities” and noting that “Sri Lanka is against any form of terrorism.”
He added that Sri Lanka would incur no additional costs by joining the operations, as the country’s ships are already patrolling its vast maritime area in the Indian Ocean.

ATTACKS ON SHIPS

Oil and fuel tanker traffic in the Red Sea was stable in December, even though many container ships have rerouted due to attacks by Iran-aligned Houthi militants, a Reuters analysis of vessel tracking data showed.
The attacks have driven up shipping costs sharply along with insurance premiums, but have had less impact than feared on oil flows, with shippers continuing to use the key East-West passage. The Houthis, who have said they are targeting Israel-bound vessels, have largely attacked non-petroleum goods shipments.
The added costs have not made a big difference to most shippers so far because the Red Sea remains much more affordable than sending cargo around Africa. But the situation bears watching with some oil companies like BP and Equinor diverting cargoes to the longer route. Also, increased shipping costs are likely to boost exports of US crude to some European buyers, experts said.
“We haven’t really seen the interruption to tanker traffic that everyone was expecting,” said Michelle Wiese Bockmann, a shipping analyst at Lloyd’s List.
A daily average of 76 tankers carrying oil and fuel were in the south Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in December, the area close to Yemen that has seen attacks. That was only two fewer than November’s average and just three below the average for the first 11 months of 2023, according to data from ship tracking service MariTrace.
Rival tracking service Kpler tracked 236 ships on average daily across all of Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in December, slightly above the 230 daily average in November.
The additional cost of sailing around the Cape of Good Hope off Africa rather than via the Red Sea would make voyages to deliver oil less profitable, she said.
“So, you’re going to try and go through,” she said.
Since the beginning of December, chartering rates have roughly doubled according to data from ship analytics firm Marhelm. It cost as much as $85,000 a day to ship oil on Suezmax tankers, which can carry as much as 1 million barrels. Aframax vessels, which can move 750,000 barrels, cost $75,000 a day.
Tanker traffic in the south Red Sea region briefly dipped between Dec. 18 and Dec. 22 when the Houthi group intensified attacks on vessels, averaging 66 tankers, but movements resumed after, according to MariTrace.
Container ship traffic in the area has fallen more sharply, down 28 percent in December from November, with steep declines in the second half of the month as attacks mounted, according to MariTrace.

“STILL TAKING THE RISK“
Several oil majors, refiners and trading houses have continued to use the Red Sea route, according to an analysis of LSEG data.
“Shippers and their customers really want to avoid a schedule disruption. So they are still taking the risk,” said Calvin Froedge, founder of Marhelm.
He noted that many oil tankers transiting the Red Sea were carrying Russian crude to India, which the Houthis have no interest in attacking.
The Chevron-chartered Delta Poseidon traversed the Suez Canal and Red Sea at the end of December en route to Singapore, according to LSEG’s ship tracker. The Sanmar Sarod, chartered by Indian refiner Reliance, also crossed the Red Sea in late December to deliver gasoline components to the United States, data showed.
Chevron “will continue to actively assess the safety of routes in the Red Sea and throughout the Middle East and make decisions based on the latest developments,” a spokesperson said.
Reliance did not respond to a request for a comment.
Other tankers, chartered by trading house Gunvor’s unit Clearlake, Indian refiner Bharat Petroleum and Saudi Arabia’s Aramco Trading Company, have all navigated the route in recent weeks. The companies either declined to comment or did not reply to requests for comments.
Using the Red Sea can some 3,700 nautical miles off a trip from Singapore to Gibraltar.

SHIFTING FLOWS
Some companies such as BP and Equinor have paused all transits through the Red Sea and rerouted their vessels in the region.
Since the second half of December, at least 32 tankers have diverted or transited via the Cape of Good Hope, instead of using the Suez Canal, according to ship tracking service Vortexa.
The tankers that are diverting are mostly those chartered by companies who announced a pause on Red Sea movement, or those operated by US and Israel-linked entities, Vortexa added.
Fuel oil traders and bunkering sources in Asia said they were still monitoring Red Sea developments, though the East of Suez remains amply supplied for now so the current diversions are unlikely to boost prices.
East-to-west disruptions have mainly impacted European imports of diesel and jet fuel so far, Kpler data suggest. Meanwhile West to East diversions have impacted some European fuel oil and gasoline shipments to the Middle East, Asia-Pacific and East Africa, Kpler data shows.
Tensions there have also prompted more oil buyers to look to the USand likely played a role in the record 2.3 million barrels per day of crude exports to Europe in December, Matt smith, an analyst at ship tracking firm Kpler said.
“Ongoing uncertainty in the Red Sea is likely spurring on some modicum of European buying (of US crude),” Smith said.


Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah

Updated 9 sec ago
Follow

Gaza zookeeper fears for his animals after fleeing Rafah

KHAN YOUNIS: In a cowshed in Gaza’s Khan Younis, zookeeper Fathi Ahmed Gomaa has created a temporary home for dozens of animals, including lions and baboons, having fled with them from Israel’s offensive in Rafah.
“We’ve moved all the animals we had, except for three big lions that remain (in Rafah),” he said.
“I ran out of time and couldn’t move them.” Ahmed abandoned his zoo in Rafah when Israel ordered the evacuation of parts of the southern Gazan city.
Before the offensive, the city on the border with Egypt had been spared a ground invasion, and more than half of the Gaza Strip’s population was sheltering there.
Now, the Israeli offensive has sent more than 800,000 people fleeing from Rafah, according to the UN, with Gomaa and his family among them.
“I am appealing to the Israeli authorities: these animals have no connection to terrorism,” Gomaa said, saying he wanted their help in coordinating with aid agencies to rescue the lions left behind in Rafah.
He fears they won’t survive long on their own.
“Of course, within a week or 10 days, if we don’t get them out, they will die because they’ll be left with no food or water.”
Gomaa said he had already lost several of his animals to the war: “Three lion cubs, five monkeys, a newborn monkey, and nine squirrels.”
And while the squawking of parrots fills the air, many of Gomaa’s other birds are no longer with him.
“I released some of the dogs, some of the hawks and eagles, some of the pigeons, and some of the ornamental birds. I released many of them because we didn’t have cages to transport them.”
In the cowshed, Gomaa is making do with what he has, using improvised fencing to raise the heights of the pens so that their new inhabitants, spotted deer, can’t leap out.
Israeli troops began their assault on Rafah on May 7, defying widespread international concern for the safety of the 1.4 million civilians sheltering in the city.


EU considers possible Rafah border mission, diplomats say

Updated 12 min 27 sec ago
Follow

EU considers possible Rafah border mission, diplomats say

BRUSSELS: Talks on deploying a EU mission at the Rafah border crossing in Gaza are at a preliminary stage and the deployment will not happen without an end to the war between Israel and Hamas, a senior EU official said on Friday.
EU foreign ministers will hold their monthly meeting in Brussels on Monday, and discuss how to improve humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza.
Two diplomats said the US had suggested the EU revive its EU Border Assistance Mission or EUBAM Rafah, which has not been operational since 2007, when Hamas seized full control of Gaza.
The crossing is the main entry point for aid from Egypt and has been closed since Israeli forces took control of it from the Gazan side nearly three weeks ago.
Rafah city is now fire in an Israeli military assault, which judges at the top UN court said on Friday should immediately halt.
“Even if we now have people on the ground talking to the different parties and seeing how it could be done, we are in a very preliminary part of the story,” said the senior official.
The official said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell could be mandated by the 27 members on Monday to come up with “some kind of operative conclusions that could allow the mission to deploy.”
He said a deployment could not happen “in the current circumstances, not in war circumstances.”
“We are talking about the future,” the official said.
Three EU diplomats said the discussion would be on the table, but there was nothing concrete to discuss. One said the proposal was a “long shot.”
The mission would need unanimous approval from EU member states. Also, EUBAM is a civilian mission, and given the potentially dangerous nature of the operation, personnel and equipment would need to be adapted.
Diplomats said that such a mission could go ahead only if Egypt and Israel were also in favor.
Two US officials said Washington was reviewing options to secure the opening of the Rafah crossing, but no definitive plans have been developed yet. Israel began its offensive in Gaza after Hamas’ deadly attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7.


Four Britons repatriated from Syria camp, Kurds say

Updated 24 May 2024
Follow

Four Britons repatriated from Syria camp, Kurds say

  • The Kurdish administration said it had “handed over a woman and three children to the United Kingdom“
  • The four had been interned in the Roj camp where militants’ relatives are held

QAMISHLI, Syria: Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria said Friday that they had handed over a woman and three children to British representatives for repatriation, with a source saying they had been held in a camp for militants’ relatives.
Five years after the Daesh group was driven out of its last bastion in Syria, tens of thousands of the militants’ family members, including from Western countries, remain in detention camps in the Kurdish-controlled northeast.
The Kurdish administration said it had “handed over a woman and three children to the United Kingdom,” following a meeting with a British delegation led its Syria envoy Ann Snow.
A source within the administration told AFP the four had been interned in the Roj camp where militants’ relatives are held.
Britain’s foreign ministry said UK officials had “facilitated the repatriation of a number of British nationals from Syria to the United Kingdom.”
“This repatriation is in line with the long-standing policy that all requests for UK consular assistance from Syria are considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into account all relevant circumstances including national security,” the spokesperson said.
On May 7, the United States announced it had brought back 11 Americans including five minors, as well as a nine-year-old non-US sibling of an American, from internment camps in northeastern Syria.
The United States in the same operation facilitated the repatriation of six Canadian citizens, four Dutch citizens and one Finnish citizen, eight of them children, Secretary of state Antony Blinken said.
And in December, the Kurdish administration handed over to Britain a woman and five children who had also been held in a camp.
Despite repeated appeals by the Kurdish authorities, a number of Western countries have refused to take back their citizens from the camps.
Among the most high profile cases is that of Shamima Begum, a former Briton stripped of her citizenship after leaving the country aged 15 to marry an Daesh group fighter.


Lebanon ‘open to any effort to curb Israeli aggression,’ says Berri

Updated 24 May 2024
Follow

Lebanon ‘open to any effort to curb Israeli aggression,’ says Berri

  • Parliamentary speaker accuses Israel of ‘greed’ over Lebanese resources
  • Berri’s statement came as hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the southern border region entered their 230th day

BEIRUT: Lebanon is willing to cooperate with any international effort to stop Israeli aggression and bring security to the region, Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri said on Friday.
However, in a statement marking the 24th anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, Berri warned that Lebanon “is not ready to waive any of its sovereign rights.”
He also accused Israel of displaying “greed toward Lebanon, its resources, its entity, and its land, sea, and air borders.”
Berri’s statement came as hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army in the southern border region entered their 230th day.
The parliamentary speaker called for intensified international and regional efforts to halt Israel’s assault in the Gaza Strip, saying this was crucial to maintain security and stability in the entire region.
Hezbollah claims its actions have been in support of Gaza amid further Israeli threats to Lebanon.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Thursday from the northern command headquarters “to carry out detailed, important and even surprising plans to return displaced settlers to the north.”
He claimed Israel had killed hundreds of Hezbollah fighters.
Benny Gantz, a minister in the Israeli war Cabinet, said: “Get ready from now on for the return of the residents of the north to their houses safely in early September by force or order.”
Berri returned from Tehran after attending the funeral of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash on May 19.
In his message to the Lebanese, he renewed Lebanon’s “commitment and adherence to UN Resolution 1701, and all its terms and stipulations.”
The resolution calls for an end to hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon to be replaced by Lebanese and UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon, and the disarmament of armed groups including Hezbollah.
Berri accused Israel of ignoring the resolution “since the moment it was issued, with over 30,000 land, sea and air violations.”
Lebanon “upholds its right to defend its land with all the available means in the face of Israeli hostilities,” he said.
He called for the liberation of “the remaining occupied territory in the Kfarchouba Hills, the occupied Shebaa Farms, the northern part of the GHajjar village, and the contested border points with occupied Palestine all the way to the B1 point in Ras Al-Naqoura.”
Caretaker Minister of Defense Maurice Slim said that Lebanon preferred peace to war.
However, “defending the land was and will be the Lebanese state’s choice through the resilience of its army and people, especially the steadfast ones who are still residing in their villages and towns to repel the aggression,” he said.
Israeli warplanes on Thursday struck the town of Maroun Al-Ras in the Bint Jbeil district.
Sirens sounded in Israeli settlements opposite the border with Lebanon amid fears of possible drone attacks.
The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Friday that Hezbollah’s drones caused significant damage in the northern towns and resulted in several fatalities.
Another newspaper, Israel Hayom, said that Hezbollah’s drones are “one of the biggest threats facing Israel in the northern arena.”
The newspaper said that Hezbollah leader Mohammed Hassan Fares, who was killed by an Israeli drone strike last week in Qana, was a scientist who specialized in robotics and machine learning.


2,000 aid trucks stuck at Rafah border: Norwegian Refugee Council

Updated 24 May 2024
Follow

2,000 aid trucks stuck at Rafah border: Norwegian Refugee Council

  • Palestinians ‘actively deprived’ of essential items as Israel steps up operations in city
  • Some in Gaza have been displaced as many as 9 times since October

LONDON: The Norwegian Refugee Council has warned that 2,000 aid trucks are stuck in Egypt at the Rafah border crossing, with Palestinians in Gaza being “actively deprived” of essential goods.
Rafah is the last remaining area of Gaza yet to come under full assault by Israeli forces, with fears now mounting of an imminent operation to take the southern city.
The NRC’s head of operations in Gaza, Suze van Meegen, told the BBC: “The city of Rafah is now comprised of three entirely different worlds: the east is an archetypal war zone, the middle is a ghost town, and the west is a congested mass of people living in deplorable conditions.”
She said medical supplies, tents, water tanks and food are being held up at the border, and in some cases Palestinians in Gaza have been displaced as many as nine times since Israel launched its military operation last October.
“People have no choice but to put their faith in so-called ‘humanitarian safe zones’ designated by the forces that have killed their family members and destroyed their homes,” she added.
Israeli journalist Amos Harel told the BBC that he believes Israel is moving ahead with plans to occupy Rafah with tacit US support.
“It’s quite clear that the Americans are no longer trying to prevent Israel from occupying Rafah. So the Israelis may proceed carefully and not too quickly. But it’s less of a question of whether the Israelis are going to occupy Rafah. It’s quite clear that they are,” he said.
It comes despite earlier warnings by US President Joe Biden against Israel attacking “population centers,” and with the International Court of Justice set to rule on the legality of the Israeli campaign in Gaza after a case was submitted by South Africa in December accusing Israel of genocide.