Arms-laden ship docks in Syrian port: official

Arms-laden ship docks in Syrian port: official

ANKARA / NICOSIA
Arms-laden ship docks in Syrian port: official

A man looks at Chariot cargo ship as it sails out of Limassol port. AFP photo

A Russian ship that made an unscheduled stop in Greek Cyprus while carrying tons of arms has arrived at the Syrian port of Tartus, Turkish foreign ministry official Selçuk Ünal told journalists. 

Ünal said the Turkish navy has learned that the Russian ship "Chariot" docked at the Syrian port today. 

The cargo ship, owned by St. Petersburg-based Westberg Ltd., was technically violating an EU embargo on such shipments. An anonymous official said the ship was allowed to leave the island after its new destination changed to near Turkey.

The Chariot, a St. Vincent and Grenadines-flagged ship, left a Russian port on Jan. 9 for Turkey and Syria, which is 105 km east of Cyprus, the officials said. Russia and Turkey are not members of the European Union, so such a route would not have violated the embargo the bloc imposed to protest
Syria’s crackdown on the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

But the Chariot dropped anchor off the southern Greek Cypriot port of Limassol Jan. 10 because of high seas, drawing the attention of Greek Cypriot officials, according to government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou. Customs officials boarded the ship to examine its cargo but could not open and inspect the four containers because of “the confined space” they were stored in, the Greek Cypriot Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Nevertheless, the officials determined they were holding “dangerous cargo.” State radio in Greek Cyprus went further, saying the vessel was carrying “tons of munitions.”

The Chariot was reportedly carrying between 35 and 60 tons of munitions and explosives bound for the port of Latakia in Syria. Greek Cypriot authorities then consulted with the ship’s Russian owners who promised to change the ship’s route, and the vessel was allowed to leave Greek Cyprus yesterday, the statement said. The statement did not say where the vessel was headed next.

Stefanou told state radio earlier yesterday that it was decided the vessel would be released after the ship agreed to change its destination and “not go to Syria,” in keeping with “all international regulations.” But an official with knowledge of the matter said the ship was allowed to leave after saying its final destination will be nearby Turkey. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, given the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue.

Turkey has imposed trade sanctions on Syria and is allowing its opposition groups to meet on its territory. Some 7,000 Syrians have taken refuge in Turkey. Last summer, Greek Cyprus suffered a disaster when it confiscated munitions aboard another cargo ship heading to the Middle East.
In February 2009, officials seized 85 gunpowder-laden containers from a Greek Cypriot-flagged ship that was suspected of transporting them from Iran to Palestinian militants in Gaza through Syria.

Journalist killed in Homs

PARIS - The Associated Press

French television channel France 2 said one of its journalists has been killed in unknown circumstances in Homs, Syria.

In a statement yesterday, the channel said the French reporter, Gilles Jacquier, was on a Syrian government-authorized reporting trip to the Arab country at the time of his death. Another member of the reporting team was uninjured. It was the first known instance of a Western journalist being killed in Syria since uprising against the regime of Bashar al-Assad erupted 10 months ago.


Russian, vessel, Turkey, Latakia, Greek Cyprus, arms smuggling