A German-owned freighter loaded with weapons from Iran was stopped on Friday near the Syrian port of Tartus in the Mediterranean Sea, SPIEGEL has learned.
A few days prior, the Atlantic Cruiser, owned by the Emden carrier Bockstiegel, had allegedly picked up heavy military equipment and munitions meant for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad's regime from an Iranian freighter at the Djibouti port. The cargo, desperately needed reinforcements for Assad's crackdown on dissidents, was supposed to be unloaded on Friday.
But defectors from inside the Syrian government had learned of the delivery and warned the shipping company. On Friday the Atlantic Cruiser suddenly changed course, heading for the Turkish harbor of Iskenderun instead. Then the ship stopped some 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Tartus, sailing in circles for the next few hours.
"We stopped the ship after getting information on the weapons cargo," shipping agent Torsten Lüddeke of Hamburg-based C.E.G. Bulk Chartering told SPIEGEL.
According to Lüddeke, the ship had been chartered by an Odessa, Ukraine-based company called White Whale Shipping. "They declared to us as cargo mainly pumps and similar things," he said. "We never would have allowed weapons on board." For now, the 6,200-ton ship will "stay where it is," he added.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian shipping company has insisted that the Atlantic Cruiser is not carrying weapons and that it be allowed to dock in Tartus.
However, SPIEGEL has learned that the ship's crew had attempted to refuel in the Cypriot port of Limassol, but was turned away after reporting its cargo as "weapons and munitions."
UN Negotiations Continue
The German Economics Ministry told the Associated Press on Saturday that it was looking into the matter, but provided no further details.
The route between Djibouti and Tartus is known as a path for transporting weapons, according to intelligence experts. In January another ship out of Russia was halted with munitions in Cyprus, but later continued its journey with the cargo to Syria after the captain declared he would head to a different port than initially planned.
Due to Syrian dictator Assad's brutal crackdown on the protest movement, the European Union has placed a number of sanctions on the country, including a weapons embargo. The United Nations Security Council has not yet followed suit.
This Saturday, the United Nations is scheduled to vote on a draft resolution authorizing military observers to embark on a mission to monitor a cease-fire between opposition fighters and the Syrian government. But negotiations were reportedly tougher than expected, diplomats in New York said on Friday evening. Both Pakistan and Russia expressed reservations about the initiative, which would be the first UN resolution since the violence began in Syria more than a year ago. Since then some 9,000 people have been killed there, according to UN estimates.
The third day of the fragile cease-fire, which began officially on Thursday, was reportedly disrupted on Saturday when the Syrian army bombarded the opposition stronghold of Homs. British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that the shelling killed one person and injured several others.