Turkish officials said they will search a German-owned vessel that is suspected of carrying weapons and ammunition bound for Syria.
The 'Atlantic Cruiser' ship was stopped in the Mediterranean sea after its owner W. Bockstiegel Reederei was allegedly notified by Syrian opposition figures of the vessel’s true cargo and destination.
Today’s Zaman, an English language Turkish newspaper, reported that the ship will be towed to the southern coastal city of Iskenderun where it will be searched by custom officials, policemen, diplomats and medical experts, citing a source in the foreign ministry.
A German newspaper, Der Spiegel has already alleged that the ship is carrying weapons and ammunition from Iran to the Syrian port of Tartus in order to provide arms to President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
BBC reported that the ship flies an Antigua and Barbuda flag and that it is chartered to a Ukrainian company.
Reederei stated however that neither the ship nor the charter company knew that it was transporting “weapons, munitions or military equipment,” according to the Associated Press.
According to BBC, the ship’s cargo was loaded in Mumbai, subsequently journeyed to Djibouti to deliver some cargo and was then on its way to Syria, Turkey and Montenegro.
Der Spiegel reported that Germany is demanding an explanation from the ship’s owners. But there is little the German government can do.
Following a legal review of the issue and based on the information currently available, there are no possibilities of action or intervention under German law, a source in the German Economics Ministry told Der Spiegel.
Since the uprising against Assad erupted in Syria last March, Turkey has taken an increasingly belligerent stance against the Damascus regime. Ankara has imposed sanctions on Syria and stated it would intercept any shipment of arms to the nation.
Both Turkey and the European Union have an arms embargo in place against Syria.
Turkey has also broken off diplomatic relations with its former ally.
Today’s Zaman reported that last year Turkish officials stopped trucks that were suspected of carrying arms for Assad across the border by land.
Russia is believed to be Syria’s principal weapons supplier -- from 2007 to 2010, the value of Russian weapons deals with Syria jumped to $4.7 billion from $2.1 billion — compared with the 2003-to-2006 period, according to Richard F. Grimmett, a security specialist at the Congressional Research Service in Washington.
However, China and Iran are also believed to be supplying weapons to Assad.