A Chinese cargo ship believed to be carrying 77 tonnes of small arms, including more than 3m rounds of ammunition, AK47 assault rifles, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, has docked in the South African port of Durban for transportation of the weapons to Zimbabwe, the South African government confirmed yesterday. It claimed it was powerless to intervene as long as the ship’s papers were in order.
Copies of the documentation for the Chinese ship, the An Yue Jiang, show that the weapons were sent from Beijing to the ministry of defence in Harare. Headed “Dangerous goods description and container packing certificate”, the document was issued on April 1, three days after Zimbabwe’s election. It lists the consignment as including 3.5m rounds of ammunition for AK47 assault rifles and for small arms, 1,500 40mm rockets, 2,500 mortar shells of 60mm and 81mm calibre, as well as 93 cases of mortar tubes.
The carrier is listed as the Cosco shipping company in China.
The structure of shipping companies is a complicated one. Each vessel must be registered (flagged), insured, classed, managed and crewed. For reasons of liability, tax avoidance, media relations and general profit motives ship owners will often use purpose build corporations with storefronts located in the countries offering the best terms or amicable laws. The end result is purpose built complexity. This is the reason why the Cosco is not liable for the clean-up of oil spilt by the Cosco Busan and will likely deny ties to the shipment of these arms. To find the truth would require a large scale investigation well beyond the scope of this blog, or even a well funded news group.