Archive for 'May 2011'

    Israeli government distances itself from sanctions busters

    May 31, 2011 6:43 PM by Eric Watkins
    The government of Israel has made efforts to distance itself from Ofer Bros. Group, one of the country's largest private conglomerates, after learning the firm violated US sanctions against Iran.

    "The recent American decision relates to a private company and the private company has to deal with it directly with American authorities," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

    The Ofer Bros. Group, one of several companies to be hit with US sanctions for trade with Iran, earlier said it had “never sold ships to Iran” and claimed support for its position from the Israeli government.

    "It's definitely awkward to find an Israeli company blacklisted like this," said another government official familiar with the matter.

    The awkwardness was underlined by Yossi Melman, a columnist for Israel’s Haaretz newspaper who said Israel's government had long failed to enforce its own laws restricting Israelis from engaging in commerce and investment with firms doing business with Iran.

    "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who endlessly preaches the need for firm action against Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear arms, is not lifting a finger to stop Israeli companies and individuals indirectly trading with Iran," Melman wrote.

    US officials last week said that Singapore-based Tanker Pacific, which is owned by Ofer, sold the tanker MT Raffles Park for $8.65 million in September to a front company that then sold it to Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

    US officials said Ofer failed to exercise due diligence and did not heed publicly available and easily obtainable information that would have indicated that they were dealing with an Iranian company.

    Tanker Pacific issued a statement saying it considers the announcement by the US State Department to be “a harsh assessment” of its due diligence process.

    The firm said that the searches and enquiries it made at the time of the transaction were “appropriate” and that they gave “no indication that the vessel would ultimately fall into Iranian hands.”

    Tanker Pacific Management said it has retained counsel in Washington and is engaging with US government authorities “with the hope of clarifying this matter quickly.”

    As a result of the US action, Ofer and Tanker Pacific are barred from securing financing from the US Export-Import Bank, from obtaining loans of more than $10 million from US financial institutions and from receiving US export licenses.

    Contact Eric Watkins at

    UK's Huhne faces sea of troubles

    May 23, 2011 1:48 PM by Eric Watkins
    The UK’s Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Chris Huhne is facing a sea of troubles these days, and none of it connected with the government’s recent decision to increase taxes on oil and gas companies operating in the North Sea.

    Nope. Huhne is facing an altogether different sea of troubles following disclosures by his ex-wife, Vicky Pryce, that that he persuaded her to accept speeding penalty points on his behalf in order to escape a suspended driver’s license.

    As a result of the disclosures, police in the county of Essex – where the speeding violation took place – plan to interview Huhne this week – an interview that could result in criminal charges, according to press reports.

    At the very least, the allegations now being raised call into question Mr Huhne’s tenure as energy secretary. At their worst, the allegations could lead to charges that Mr Huhne perverted the course of justice.

    Either way, even as his colleagues in government are now distancing themselves from Huhne, other observers are suggesting that he should resign his position or face being fired.

    Needless to say, opposition politicians are seeking to reap maximum political hay out of Mr Huhne’s difficulties.

    Shadow Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell, a member of the opposition Labour Party, said that the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, should set up an independent investigation to establish what had happened.

    "That is what the Prime Minister should be doing," she said. "He should be getting a proper investigation independently to establish what the facts were and in the light of the facts decide the best course of action."

    Michael Fallon, the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, the LibDem’s partners in the UK’s coalition government, said Huhne’s presence in the Cabinet while under investigation by police represented a “problem” for the government.

    “He hasn’t been charged with anything,” Fallon said, but noted that, “What’s important is that we wait until any minister has been charged; when they’re charged then obviously it’s right that they should have to step aside.”

    Foreign Secretary William Hague, also a Conservative, underlined that view.

    Asked whether Huhne should resign, Hague replied: "In the media, those things are being questioned, but the police are looking into it and so what can we do? We have to let that process take place. It's his decision."

    But others are less charitable.

    “There is blood in the water and the sharks are circling. So far Huhne has failed to deny the allegations in full, he has only said that the allegations are incorrect. The story just does not stack up,” a senior Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament told The Daily Telegraph.

    Thus, the stage is set.

    "However good Huhne is as energy secretary, it will be overshadowed by the continuing coverage of his private life," said Simon McGrath, who runs a popular Facebook page for Huhne’s party, the Liberal Democrats.

    McGrath wants Huhne to resign.

    "If he chooses not to do this then Clegg should show that he will put the interests of the Party first and fire him," said McGrath, referring to the leader of Liberal Democrats, Nicholas Clegg.

    As for Huhne, he says: “I have been very clear that I deny these allegations and I stand by that absolutely.”

    Meanwhile, about those North Sea taxes...

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    Clinton leads US oil diplomacy efforts in Greenland

    May 10, 2011 7:03 PM by Eric Watkins
    US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton plans to push for an Arctic oil spill response taskforce this week even as Cairn Energy PLC prepares for its busiest drilling season ever off the coast of Greenland.

    Clinton will travel to Greenland for a meeting of the eight nations – Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US – that lay claim to the Arctic amid growing concerns about the risks to the environment following last year’s Macondo blowout.

    “This will be a historic meeting,” said Julie Reside, a spokeswoman at the State Department. “For the coming two years, Secretary Clinton and the other ministers will set in motion negotiations on a new instrument to control potential oil spills in the Arctic.”

    Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is expected to join Clinton on May 12 for the seventh meeting of the Arctic Council ministers, who will sign a search-and-rescue treaty and hear a report on how climate change is affecting the Arctic.

    “The Arctic Council is in an odd transition place now: it has been decided that they need to make it a more formal institution and give it real authority,” said Buck Parker of Earthjustice, a non-profit law firm specializing on environmental issues.

    “They have to make it look like they’re doing something, or other countries that particularly have an interest in how the Arctic is managed with respect to global warming are going to want some say,” said Parker.

    Meanwhile, Edinburgh, Scotland-based Cairn plans to invest an extra $500 million to drill up to four wells offshore Greenland this year, one more than in 2010. The company failed to make a commercial discovery there last year.

    Cairn has just won approval from Greenland’s government for its 2011 campaign, and it plans to drill up to three wells in the Atammik and Lady Franklin blocks, and one in the Eqqua or Napariaq blocks farther north in Baffin Bay.

    That prospect sends shivers up the spines of environmentalists.

    “It took BP months to stop Macondo, with a fleet of 6,500 ships, with 50,000 people and a bill of about $40 billion,” said Ben Ayliffe, a senior oil campaigner at Greenpeace International.

    By contrast, Ayliffe said, Cairn last year had “14 ships thousands of miles from anywhere, and they’re not the sort of company than can afford to take a $40 billion hit on an oil spill.”

    Looks like the time is right for oil diplomacy

    Contact Eric Watkins at
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