German authorities do not plan to prosecute the owners of the Francop, the German-owned vessel that shipped the massive cache of Iranian supplied rockets and weapons that was confiscated by Israeli naval commandos overnight Tuesday, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Kai Thomas Breas, a spokesman for the public prosecutor's office in Stade, near Hamburg, told the Post on Thursday that there "is no responsibility for a criminal act because the ship sailed under the Antigua flag. The ship did not sail under a German flag."
The owner of the German shipping company is Gerd Bartels, and the Francop is registered in Neu Wulmstorf, which falls under the jurisdiction of the prosecutor in Stade.
The Hansa India, owned by the Hamburg-based Leonhardt and Blumberg company and seized by US Marines in early October for unlawfully transporting Iranian weapons, is under investigation in Hamburg, but that ship was flying a German flag.
The Israeli government had urged the German Foreign Ministry to report the Hansa India case to the United Nations sanctions committee in early October. However, on Wednesday, according to a spokeswoman for the United Nations secretary-general, the UN had no information on the incident. Asked about the failure to notify the UN, a German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman wrote by e-mail to the Post that "the German government notified the responsible committee of the United Nations on October 15 about the known facts and the adopted measures."
The German Foreign Ministry declined to provide the Post with the names of the UN personnel that were alerted or documentation confirming the notification of the Hansa India violations.
On Wednesday, in the aftermath of the Francop's capture, Israel's Foreign Ministry sent a memo to its ambassadors abroad urging them to speak to their governments about stepping up pressure against Iran.
They were instructed to also ask the governments to be more vigilant with respect to commercial shipping and in particular to follow the example of the United Kingdom, which earlier this month banned companies from dealing with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.
"Countries should take preventative measures in order to protect themselves and their companies, as mentioned in UNSC resolutions. The designation of IRISL by the government of UK last month is a good example of such a preventive measure," the letter stated.
On Thursday, however, Germany's Economics and Foreign ministries issued a joint statement in a response to a query by the Post: "The question of dealing with Iran is a subject of ongoing discussions as well as with the E3+3 and within the framework of the EU."
When questioned if the transport of Iranian weapons aboard a German vessel destined for Israel's enemies contradicts Chancellor Merkel's pro-Israel speech in the US Congress on Tuesday, a Foreign Ministry spokesman wrote, "No. Germany is actively engaged that the United Nation sanctions are thoroughly implemented."
Israeli diplomats have privately complained that German officials use the cheap excuse of adhering to UN sanctions but will not push for more robust economic penalties against Teheran and German companies.
Meanwhile, the Post exclusively obtained a letter from Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen, issued on Thursday to the Dutch Parliament, stating the Netherland's strict customs policy toward the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and Iran Air cargo. According to the letter, IRISL and Iran Air merchandise is automatically labelled at the highest risk category of Dutch customs and must be inspected even without cause for suspicion. The Dutch policy was introduced in late 2008 in response to the US designation of IRISL as an entity involved in the proliferation of illicit weapons.
Annelou van Egmond, a Foreign Affairs spokeswoman for the Netherlands, told the Post that the Dutch policy has more teeth in it than the EU policy because it requires an automatic inspection of IRISL goods in contrast to a standard of reasonable suspicion. Van Egmond said the Netherlands "has not seized illegal goods since September 2008" from IRISL.
Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, a spokesman for the Austrian Foreign Ministry, told the Post that he is not aware of any "Austrian company doing business with IRISL."
He said the Ministry is "aware of the UK decision" banning trade with the IRISL. Asked if Austria plans to replicate the UK decision, he said there are "ongoing EU discussions" concerning Iranian sanctions. Pressed about the media reports covering Peter Fichtenbauer, an Austrian member of Parliament and chairman of the defense committee, and his visit to Teheran this past week, urging an "expansion of economic and commercial ties between Iran and Austria," the Austrian spokesman said Fichtenbauer "did not speak on behalf of the government."
The Austrian spokesman Launsky-Tieffenthal said "In "2008 trade receded considerably between" Iran and Austria.
When asked about the spike in trade in 2009, he said "exports increased" but "after having dropped last year."
That the Austrian oil and gas giant OMV does not have "any operational activity in Iran says more than I can in additional words and is a reflection of our position toward trade" with Iran. The OMV signed a 22 billion euro tentative agreement signed in April 2007 to produce liquefied natural gas from Iran's South Pars gas field.
Reached in Rotterdam, Fer van de Laar, managing director, International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH), told the Post that the transport of high explosive weapons on the Francop vessel "does not serve a good purpose" but "we live in a world where trade is being done every day... It is difficult to regulate this kind of trade."
The shipment of weapons must "conform with the International Maritime and Danger Code," said Fer van de Laar.
However, Van de Laar said the IAPH does "not have the means to investigate, "and "it is up to UN to see if sanctions are being maintained."
He added that "we are just a port authority and are responsibility is to see that the ports are efficient for the safe traffic of imports."
Asked about IRISL's shipments of rockets and weapons, Lee Adamson, a spokesman for the UN-organization International Maritime Organization (IMO), told the Post there "is a practical code about how dangerous goods should be carried... in terms of getting into to political matters it is not something our agency would be involved in."
Responding to the Post's query about the IMO Secretary General-Efthimios Mitropoulos' praise of Iran's warships while in the Islamic Republic in September, Adamson, speaking from London, said the IMO has a "remit to suppress piracy" in Somalia and that Iran was active in combating pirates. The IMO "does not have a remit" to enforce violations of UN Security Council resolutions, said Adamson.
Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.