Turkey intercepts ship with suspected arms headed for Syria

Turkey has intercepted a vessel in the Mediterranean suspected of carrying weapons and ammunition to Syria, a diplomatic source told AFP on Wednesday.

"We received information that the vessel has a cargo of arms and ammunition headed for Syria," the source said on condition of anonymity, adding that Turkish authorities would search the vessel later in the day.

The Antigua and Barbuda flagged "Atlantic Cruiser" belongs to a German company, the source added.

The German shipping firm denied allegations Monday that its vessel was carrying Iranian arms to Syria, violating EU sanctions against the Damascus regime.

News weekly Der Spiegel reported at the weekend that the Atlantic Cruiser, owned by German company Bockstiegel but chartered by a Ukrainian firm, had been stopped on the high seas with Iranian weapons on board.

Bockstiegel said they had no indication that the cargo included arms or ammunition as stated in the press, and the Ukranian company that chartered the ship further testified that the cargo contained no weapons, but legal goods for civilian use.

The ship was stopped close to the Turkish port in Iskenderun for a port inspection of its cargo.

Bockstiegel acknowledged that the ship's crew had only been able to check "the container stacked at the top," and the ship would continue its journey only after it passes the inspection.

Iran is under a UN arms embargo imposed in 2007 due to its alleged nuclear activities while Western countries have declared a similar embargo against Iranian ally Syria since a bloody crackdown on dissent began over a year ago.

Amid Damascus' violent crackdown, Turkey imposed gradual sanctions against its neighbour -- including interception of arms shipments there by air, land and sea.

Throughout last year, Turkey intercepted several ships and trucks suspected of carrying weapons into Syria through Turkish territory.

by Laurent Thomet © 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Apr 18, 2012