Despondent American University President Sees “No Relief in Sight”

Aug 10, 2006 4:15pm

The American University Hospital in Beirut is still without its fuel shipment although oil tankers wait just outside Lebanese waters. Today, the owners explained why. The owners of the oil tanker Afrodite, one of the handful of ships destined for Beirut, tell ABC News they have received no written guarantee of safe passage from the Israeli Defense Forces and no offer of an escort from the U.S. Navy. This contradicts earlier rumors by university administrators that such offers had been made. As profiled by the ABCNews.com Blotter over the last week, damage to Lebanon’s power grid and Israel’s marine blockade have caused power shortages around the country. In Beirut, the country’s energy supplier, Electricite du Liban, has curbed its output for lack of fuel. Israel instituted the blockade in an effort to weaken Hezbollah, whose militants abducted two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid last month. The Afrodite is owned by Tsakos Energy Navigation, a Greek company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Paul Durham, Tsakos’ Chief Financial Officer, spoke with ABC News earlier today. "We have a cargo on board which we desperately want to deliver…that the people of Lebanon desperately need," Durham said. But he also notes that "it’s a hot war zone" and that for multiple reasons — among them the safety of the 28 crew members onboard — the ships are not willing to pass through the blockade until there is "an unequivocal ceasefire." "We know nothing about a U.S. Navy offer to escort us. Even that, an escort while bombs are falling down, makes no sense. What we are doing is waiting and praying that there is peace." The crew’s safety is not Durham’s only fear. The possibility of an oil spill caused by damage to the ship is not something Durham or Tsakos Energy Navigation is ready to risk. "We do not want to contribute to an environmental disaster…The vessel could be hit [by stray shelling] and cause a leak of our cargo, which is fuel oil…quite nasty stuff. It’s even worse than crude oil as far as pollutant is concerned." ABC News asked Durham about the concern that a fuel delivery might end up in the hands of Hezbollah militants, thereby perpetuating their ability to wage war. "This stuff is sticky fuel oil. It’s used to power electricity stations and ships…their rockets would need high grade aviation fuel, I would imagine. I’m pretty sure this would not power a rocket." The U.S. State Department has not provided comment despite repeated requests. The Israeli Embassy has not provided comment since last Wednesday, when spokesman David Siegel said, "We…urge all aid to be directed through the organized humanitarian mechanisms already in place through international organizations and the U.N." American University of Beirut President John Waterbury just returned to Beirut yesterday. He spoke with ABC News after driving from Amman, Jordan through Lebanon’s northern border with Syria. He expressed concern that fuel is running out. "The country has in the neighborhood of ten days’ supply left," says Waterbury. "When that fuel runs out, we shut down." "It’s a very scary thought that it really never happened during the civil war, we always found a way to keep going." Waterbury says the University, like the rest of the country, has begun rationing what fuel is left. "You make some projections on current consumption, but the next day’s consumption goes down," says Waterbury. "So ten days may be the estimate tomorrow. It’s not a lot. There’s no significant relief in sight." But Waterbury says, morale at the hospital remains high as both employees and patients continue to hope for a solution. "If this hospital closes, some part of Lebanon’s soul is going to close," he says. "When all else fails, AUB’s hospital always finds a way." As for his personal thoughts on the situation at large, Tsakos CFO Paul Durham shares this sentiment from his view of the conflict in Athens, Greece, "Greeks have good relationships with the Lebanese and with the Israelis. To see two friends fighting like that and so much death is tragic." s

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