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Greek owner blasts Iraqi authorities over prolonged handymax detention

The owner of the Royal Arsenal has expressed deep frustration at the continued detention of the ship, eight months after the bulk carrier was involved in a deadly collision at Umm Qasr in Iraq. The handymax, managed by Blue Fleet Management from Greece, was involved in a smash with dive support vessel Al Misbar owned by General Company for Ports of Iraq (GCPI) in August last year. 21 people died when the Iraqi ship overturned.

Since the incident, which happened while the bulker had an Iraqi pilot onboard, no quantified claims have been filed at court or requests for security presented and the vessel has been forced to remain at Umm Qasr.

Iraq’s transport minister, Kazem Finjan, has directed that compensation be paid to the victims’ families, which in addition to a cash payment from the GCPI includes land for a new home and employment at the GCPI for a family member. Accrued retirement benefits will also be paid.

The families have made further claims for additional compensation from the Royal Arsenal, whilst the GCPI have not been able to quantify any of their alleged claims. The latter appears to be compounded due to the report that the reinsurers of the Al Misbar have raised issues in relation to how it was operated as it was not a designated transportation vessel.

The master of the Royal Arsenal was detained pending further investigation and released on bail after three days.

In a release the owners of the bulk carrier claim little substantive progress has been made before the local courts and in appeals to the Court of Cassation in Baghdad and the owners are now commencing proceedings before ITLOS (International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea) in Hamburg based on breaches of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea by the Iraqi authorities.

Roy Khoury, managing director of the Blue Fleet Group, commented: “It is deeply regrettable that a functioning maritime state such as Iraq who wishes to be regarded as such by the international maritime community is so dysfunctional and unable to address such claims properly and in accordance with international practice and the UN Conventions. We felt that other operators should be made aware of the problems and losses we have incurred because we traded the vessel to an Iraqi Port.

“Our crew and representatives have not been able to leave Iraq, even for a crew change, and faced threats of violence. Moreover, the vessel has been placed at anchor in a narrow tidal channel in close proximity to passing ships and the GCPI are oblivious to the dangers this creates.”

Khoury said the how the Royal Arsenal had been treated was in violation of Iraq’s obligations under UN treaties.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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