19 Jun 2012

Syria weapons ship ‘turned back’ off Scottish coast

On the day the US and Russia call for an end to Syrian violence, a cargo ship believed to be carrying Russian-made attack helicopters to Syria turns back in British waters.

The MV Alaed had its insurance withdrawn by the Standard Club ship insurer in London when it was about 50 miles (80.4km) off Scotland’s north coast.

The insurer said it had sought more information on the boat’s cargo.

“We were made aware of the allegations that the Alaed was carrying munitions destined for Syria and have already informed the ship owner that their insurance cover ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage,” the insurer said.

Withdrawal of insurance prevents the MV Alaed from sailing until its owner can secure new cover.

The Alaed was last seen off the coast of Scotland and declared as heading for the Russian port of Vladivostok, where it was due to arrive on 24 July, according to tracking data.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it was unclear where the vessel would now go, while the Russian embassy in London has not yet commented.

Destination unclear

The FCO had said earlier it was aware of a consignment of refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters heading for Syria, but did not say if it was referring to the same vessel.

“I am pleased that the ship that was reported to be carrying arms to Syria has now turned back, apparently towards russia,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told parliament.

“We have in place a European Union arms embargo on Syria. We discourage anyone else from supplying arms to Syria. We have had discussions with Russia about that specifically.”

The UK and US have raised concerns with Russia about shipments of weapons to Syria, which is subject to a European Union arms embargo.

Syrian bloodshed

The move came as Russia and the US called for an immediate end to violence in Syria.

“In order to stop the bloodshed in Syria, we call for an immediate cessation of all violence,” Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama said in a joint statement after meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Los Cabos, in Mexico.

The UN mission’s leader Major General Robert Mood, whose 300 unarmed monitors suspended operations on Saturday because of escalating bloodshed, is to brief the security council on Tuesday.

With civilians trapped by regime shelling of rebel bastions such as the central city of Homs, Mood has urged the government and opposition to let “women, children, the elderly and the injured to leave conflict zones”.

And UN rights chief Navi Pillay has demanded a halt to government bombardment of populated areas. “Such actions amount to crimes against humanity and possible war crimes,” Pillay told the UN Human Rights Council.

Sanctions moves

The United States, Britain and France are working on a new UN Security Council resolution in which they want to threaten sanctions against Assad. But Russia, Syria’s main international ally and to which it sells arms, and China have already blocked previous resolutions.

Mr Obama and Mr Putin said in their statement: “We are united in the belief that the Syrian people should have the opportunity to independently and democratically choose their own future.”

Putin told reporters that he and Obama had found “many common points” on the 15-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that monitors say has cost more than 14,400 lives.

Moscow news reports, meanwhile, said Russia is preparing to send two amphibious assault ships and marines to the Syrian port of Tartus, where Russia has a naval base, to ensure the safety of its nationals.

The amphibious warships, the Nikolai Filchenkov and the Tsezar Kunikov, are to be sent to Tartus with a “large” group of marines, Interfax news agency quoted an officer at Russian naval headquarters as saying.

There was no official confirmation of the report by Russian authorities.