Turkey searches German ship suspected of carrying arms to Syria

Turkey searches German ship suspected of carrying arms to Syria

Owner says there is no sign that munitions are aboard, but Syrian opposition group claims otherwise

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Customs, police and paramilitary officers are searching a German-owned ship docked in a Turkish port over allegations it is carrying weapons for Syria, a customs official said Thursday.

The Atlantic Cruiser was halted in the Mediterranean last week after its owners received information — allegedly from Syrian government defectors — that it may have the weapons aboard.

The Turkish customs official, who spoke anonymously in line with government rules, said it was not clear how long the search on the 6,204-gross ton ship would last.

It was taking place at the eastern Mediterranean port of Iskenderun, where the ship was already scheduled to unload goods.

Turkey enforces an arms embargo against Syria’s government because of its yearlong crackdown on a popular uprising, which is estimated to have left more than 9,000 people dead.

Neither the German owner of the ship, W. Bockstiegel Reederei, nor a Ukrainian company that chartered it had any indication it was carrying any “weapons, munitions or military equipment,” according to a statement from the owner on Monday.

Bockstiegel said in a statement Wednesday it had proposed on Monday that the cargo be inspected in Iskenderun, stressing that the ship was at no point stopped by Turkish authorities and that it voluntarily entered Turkish waters on Wednesday morning before docking in Iskenderun later in the day.

The ship’s owner said it had a long-standing relationship with the Ukrainian company and had no problems in the past. The contract also stipulates that the ship only be used for “lawful cargo,” Bockstiegel said.

The goods being carried by the Antigua & Barbuda-flagged ship were loaded on board in Mumbai, India, destined for Syria, Turkey and Montenegro. A delivery had already been made to Djibouti, but nothing new was taken on board there, the shipping company said.

According to the company’s records, the shipment for Syria consisted of parts for a thermal power station project.

The company has said that on April 13 it received an email from an organization calling itself the “Syrian Revolution Naval Forces” claiming the ship was carrying the weapons for Syria.

Bockstiegel said it ordered the Atlantic Cruiser to stop its journey after receiving the email, which it said threatened that the ship would be attacked if it tried to dock in Syria.

It said its manifest papers indicate cables and pipes are the ship’s main cargo, but that it won’t be able to say for sure what is on it until it is unloaded and inspected. It said the crew only had access to what was on the deck of the ship, and not all of the cargo.

The company also said it has remained in close contact with the German government on the issue, which is looking into a possible breach of a European Union arms embargo against Syria. It said the company “adheres to the law closely,” including the weapons embargo.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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