Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Cyprus Releases Syria-Bound Ammunition Ship

NICOSIA, Cyprus - Cypriot authorities released on Jan. 11 a cargo ship carrying tons of munitions after receiving a pledge the vessel would not proceed to unrest-swept Syria as originally scheduled.
The foreign ministry said the Saint Vincent-flagged cargo ship Chariot was allowed to refuel and set sail from the port of Limassol after its Russian owners agreed to change the destination.
The ship, which set sail from Saint Petersburg on Dec. 9, called into Limassol on Jan. 10 following bad weather, said government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou.
During a check of the ship's documents it was "determined the ship was carrying dangerous cargo destined for Syria and Turkey" and prevented from setting sail, the foreign ministry said.
The ministry said it was unable to physically check the four containers on board due to a lack of space to maneuver, but after consultations with the owners, the vessel was given the green light.
However, the media said the ship carried tons of munitions and explosives and was put under guard.
The Chariot was reportedly carrying between 35 and 60 tons of munitions and explosives bound for the port of Latakia in Syria, where thousands of people have been killed since March in a government crackdown on dissent.
"The rules and decisions of the Council of the European Union governing restrictive measures in relation to the situation in Syria were taken into account. It was ascertained no EU measures were violated," the ministry said.
Stefanou told state radio it was decided the vessel would be released after the ship agreed to change its destination and "not go to Syria," in keeping with "all international regulations."
The new destination was not disclosed.
The incident comes exactly six months after seized Iranian munitions exploded at a Cypriot naval base on July 11, killing six firemen and seven military personnel.
The containers had been at the base since their seizure in 2009 when Cyprus intercepted, under pressure from the United States and other Western nations, a Cypriot-flagged freighter bound from Iran for Syria.
The explosion of the containers, which had been stored in the open air, also knocked out the island's main power plant. Criminal charges against those deemed responsible are expected to be filed next week.

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