Turkey searching German ship with suspected arms for Syria
ANKARA - Agence France- Presse
The ship, called Atlantic Cruiser, sailing under the colours of Antigua and Barbuda, is pictured in the port of at Iskenderun, April 18, 2012. REUTERS PhotoTurkish officials today began searching a German-owned vessel suspected of carrying weapons to Syria, a diplomatic source told AFP.
"The inspection began this morning but it will take time as the vessel is heavily loaded," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Antigua and Barbuda flagged Atlantic Cruiser which docked at Iskenderun port Wednesday morning belongs to a German company Bockstiegel.
A thorough search of its cargo was delayed to Thursday due to stormy weather, said officials.
The ship was said to be flying a special flag to warn other vessels that it was carrying explosives on board.
But Turkish officials said it does not automatically mean that the ship is loaded with ammunitions, adding that there might be declared inflammable material on the ship including signal flares.
On Monday, the German shipping firm denied allegations that its vessel was carrying Iranian arms to Syria which would have flouted EU sanctions against the Damascus regime.
German news weekly Der Spiegel, which broke the story at the weekend, reported that the Atlantic Cruiser which is owned by Bockstiegel but chartered by a Ukrainian firm, had been stopped on the high seas with Iranian weapons on board.
Yesterday the German firm said in a statement that the Atlantic Cruiser entered the port of Iskenderun "unsolicited and as agreed" with German and Turkish authorities.
The ship was "never stopped or intercepted by Turkish authorities", the company said, adding that a stop in Iskenderun had been planned from the start.
The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is under Western sanctions due to the deadly crackdown on dissent erupted in March last year.
Turkey, a former ally of Damascus, has also slapped some sanctions on its neighbour -- including interception of Syria-bound arms shipments by air, land and sea.
Throughout last year, Turkey intercepted several ships and trucks suspected of carrying weapons into Syria through Turkish territory.