|A ship is docked at a Syrian port [Illustrative].(Photo by: REUTERS)|
Ship suspected of carrying Iranian arms seized at sea
By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL
Vessel accused of carrying arms destined for Syrian President Bashar Assad; Azerbaijan arrests suspects in weapons smuggling.
BERLIN – A German vessel accused of carrying Iranian weapons was stopped in the Mediterranean while en route to Syria, Der Spiegel reported Saturday.
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
The ship, which had been chartered by a Ukrainian shipping company,
allegedly delivered weapons to Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has
been coping with 11-month-long mass protests against his rule.
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
According to Spiegel, the charter company CEG Bulk Chartering,
responsible for the Atlantic Cruiser stopped the delivery of the
“We stopped the ship after we received information about the
weapons,” said ship broker Torsten Lüddeke from the CEG Bulk
The shipping company Bockstiegel owns the Atlantic
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
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
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.
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
Yaakov Katz, Reuters and Jerusalem Post staff contributed
to this report.
Correction: This article alleged that the Atlantic Cruiser shipping vessel,
which the Ukrainian firm White Whale Shipping rented, delivered weapons to the
Syrian regime. Turkish authorities subsequently found no weapons aboard the
Atlantic Cruiser. The German shipping company Bockstiegel owns the Atlantic
Cruiser. German media reported weapons smuggling allegations, which proved to be
The Jerusalem Post published a second article with the results
of the investigation: Inspectors found no weapons aboard a German-owned ship
suspected earlier of carrying arms and ammunition to Syria in breach of an arms
embargo, a German government source said on Wednesday.
Cruiser was towed to Turkey's Mediterranean Iskenderun port last week for
inspection after it was reported to be carrying Iranian weapons to
The full article containing the updated and corrected information
can be read