Turkey has confirmed that a Russian ship suspected of delivering munitions to Syria in violation of an EU arms embargo after an unscheduled stop in Greek Cyprus docked at Turkey's coast on Monday after offloading nearly 60 tons of what it called “dangerous cargo.”
The Russian ship Chariot initially made its way to the Greek Cypriot port of Limassol last Tuesday after running low on fuel because of rough seas. Its arrival at the EU member country meant the vessel would be subject to the embargo the bloc imposed to protest Syria's crackdown on the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's rule.
But Greek Cypriot authorities allowed it to leave Wednesday after the ship's owners, St. Petersburg-based Westberg Ltd., said it would head to Turkey instead of Syria.
The ship then vanished off radar screens after apparently switching off its Automatic Identification System, or AIS, that enables the vessel to be tracked. Turkey, citing navy intelligence, said the ship made its way to Tartus after leaving Greek Cyprus.
Turkish officials said Saturday that the Russian ship anchored off the port of İskenderun. Foreign Ministry spokesman Selçuk Ünal told Today's Zaman that Turkish coast guard and customs officials had inspected the Chariot while at anchor off the İskenderun port before allowing it to dock at the port.
Ünal said it was clear that 59,422 tons of the “dangerous cargo” the St. Vincent and Grenadines-flagged ship had been offloaded at Tartus, but that the rest of what was offloaded was general cargo. It was not immediately clear what kind of munitions the Russian ship had delivered to Syria.
Greek Cypriot customs officials inspecting the vessel last week found that it was carrying “dangerous cargo” inside four containers that Cypriot Finance Minister Kikis Kazamias said was of a type that necessitated its seizure under EU embargo rules.
A Greek Cypriot official, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, told The Associated Press that the containers carried a shipment of bullets.