Vessel carried arms destined for Syrian President Bashar Assad; Azerbaijan arrests suspects in weapons smuggling.
Photo: Francisco Bonilla / Reuters
BERLIN – A German vessel carrying Iranian weapons was stopped in the Mediterranean while en route to Syria, Der Spiegel reported Saturday.
The report on Spiegel online’s website noted that Germany’s economic ministry has initiated an investigation to determine if a violation of sanctions took place against Syria’s regime in connection with the German- owned Atlantic Cruiser vessel.
The ship, which had been chartered by a Ukrainian shipping company, was delivering weapons to Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has been coping with 11-month-long mass protests against his rule.According to Spiegel, an economic ministry spokeswoman said, “The facts of the case are familiar to us,” adding, “ We are pursuing details and whether the embargo was violated.”
According to Spiegel, the charter company CEG Bulk Chartering, responsible for the Atlantic Cruiser stopped the delivery of the armaments.
“We stopped the ship after we received information about the weapons,” said ship broker Torsten Lüddeke from the CEG Bulk Chartering.
The shipping company Bockstiegel owns the Atlantic Cruiser.
According to Bockstiegel’s website, the company is located in Emden and Hamburg and has a fleet of 90 ships.
The ship was initially identified by Syrian defectors who alerted the German company of the illegal cargo aboard, the report stated. The 27- member EU has imposed a ban on the delivery of weapons to Syria.
According to the website of Bockstiegel, the Atlantic Courier is a multipurpose vessel that flies under the flags of Antigua and Barbuda.
The Ukrainian firm White Whale Shipping rented the Atlantic Cruiser and denies the allegations of weapons smuggling. Spiegel reported that the head of Varamar – the Ukrainian company representing White Whale – said Lüddeke from Bulk chartering is not telling the truth. Varamar President Alexander Varvarenko said Lüddekes’ company has received all of the documentation of merchandise aboard the vessel.
This is not the first time a German vessel has been used to smuggle Iranian arms. In March 2011, the Israeli navy seized the Victoria cargo ship as it was sailing off Israel’s coast on its way to Egypt while flying a Liberian flag. The ship was carrying 50 tons of weaponry destined for Hamas, including advanced Iranian-made radar-guided anti-ship missiles.
Critics have long accused German authorities and companies of failing to clamp down on German-Iranian trade, including the deliveries of weapons and illicit nuclear technology for Iran’s regime. Germany remains Iran’s largest EU bi-lateral trade partner, with a volume of annual trade hovering around 4 billion euros.
The Iranian regime does not confine its weapons smuggling to German vessels. In November 2009, Israel also intercepted the Francop ship, which was sailing near Cyprus on its way to Syria. Flying an Antiguan flag, the vessel was found to be carrying around 500 tons of weaponry, including long-range Katyusha rockets.
In January, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said he was working to recruit countries from around the world to help combat what he called the “transatlantic smuggling” of weaponry from Iran to its terror proxies in the region.
Meanwhile, a cell of Iranians and Azeris has been arrested on suspicion of smuggling arms and military supplies from Iran into Azerbaijan, the Azeri National Security Ministry announced on Thursday.
“It was a group of seven people, citizens of Iran and Azerbaijan,” Arif Babayev, the ministry spokesman, told Reuters.
Relations between Iran and neighboring mountainous Azerbaijan have soured in recent months as Tehran accused it of assisting Israeli intelligence in the murder of Iranian nuclear scientists.
The National Security Ministry said the group also smuggled in a large quantity of narcotics from Iran into Azerbaijan.
In a separate incident, Baku arrested 22 Azeri citizens suspected of spying for Iran and plotting to attack Western embassies and companies in March.
Two months earlier, two men were arrested in Azerbaijan on suspicion of plotting attacks on foreigners, including the Israeli ambassador and a rabbi.
Authorities said the two suspects had been helped by an Iranian linked to Iran’s intelligence services, who supplied them with guns and explosives to smuggle from Iran.
Baku traditionally has had cordial ties with Tehran, but has grown increasingly wary of the increasing influence of Iran’s influence in the secular, but predominantly Muslim, former Soviet state.
Yaakov Katz, Reuters and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.