Syria-Bound Cargo Ship Turns Back to Russia

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June 19, 2012

M/V Alaed. Photo: Femco Shipping

LONDON—British Foreign Secretary William Hague said a ship that was believed to be carrying military helicopters to Syria appears to have turned back after its insurer removed its coverage.

Mr. Hague told British lawmakers on Tuesday that the MV Alaed has “turned back now apparently toward Russia.”

U.K.-based insurer Standard Club said in a statement that it had been made aware that the ship—then off the Scottish coast—was carrying munitions destined for Syria, in clear breach of its rules.

“We consequently informed the ship owner that their insurance cover ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage,” it said in a statement.

The Foreign Office confirmed it was aware that a ship carrying a consignment of refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters was heading to Syria.

It said Mr. Hague had told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that all defense shipments to Syria must stop.

“We are working closely with international partners to ensure that we are doing all we can to stop the Syrian regime’s ability to slaughter civilians being reinforced through assistance from other countries,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.

The vessel’s Russian operator, Femco, declined to comment Tuesday.

Britain has joined the U.S. and other countries in pressing Russia to halt arms shipments to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. But maritime experts said the cancellation of the ship’s insurance would not necessarily affect its journey.

“Normally it’s difficult to trade at a port without insurance cover, but in this case, we are seeing a Russian ship going to a sanctioned country (Syria) that is going to let it in,” said James Baker, news editor at maritime newsletter Lloyd’s List.

An article on the website Maritime Bulletin, run by Russian maritime expert Mikhail Voytenko, said revoking the insurance would have little impact, since Russia doesn’t support European Union sanctions against weapons shipments to Syria.

The BBC had reported Tuesday that the ship was about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the Outer Hebrides off the northwest coast of Scotland. The Foreign Office and Standard Club declined to give details of its location.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a reprimand of Russia last week, when she said that Moscow “dramatically” escalated the crisis in Syria by sending attack helicopters there. The State Department acknowledged later that the helicopters she accused Moscow of sending were actually refurbished ones already owned by the Assad regime, but Russia was clearly annoyed, and the spat further fueled tensions between the two countries over Syria.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the helicopters aboard the Alaed were the ones to which Mrs. Clinton had been referring.

Copyright © 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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