Under new flag, helicopter cargo for Assad will make return to Scottish waters
A SHIP carrying Russian helicopters through Scottish waters to Syria, which turned back after its insurance was cut, is expected to resume its journey accompanied by at least one other vessel, it was reported last night.
The report by the Russian news agency Interfax is likely to reignite international criticism of Russia’s arms deliveries to Syria.
“A military-diplomatic source in Moscow told Interfax that [the ship] will go from Murmansk to Syria. According to his information, the ship should travel under escort,” the agency reported.
The cargo ship changed course last week off Shetland after losing its insurance cover.
It entered the Russian port of Murmansk yesterday to change its flag to the Russian standard, and will not be accompanied by military vessels, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The report did not say how the ship had resolved its insurance problems or what difference the flag change would make.
Russia acknowledged last week that it was trying to send repaired combat helicopters – not new equipment – to Syria.
Moscow is one of president Bashar al-Assad’s main arms suppliers and has shielded its long-standing ally from tougher UN sanctions over his crackdown on a 16-month revolt.
Moscow has said the shipment was unrelated to the violence inside Syria, something US secretary of state Hillary Clinton dismissed earlier this month as “patently untrue”.
There is no UN arms embargo on Syria. Russia has said it is fulfilling old contracts signed before the Syrian violence began and sending weapons that can only be used to protect the country from outside aggression.
The ship’s Russian operator, Femco, did not confirm that the ship Alaed was heading back to Syria, but said it would maintain its declared itinerary and travel to the north-eastern Russian port of Vladivostok. One likely route to Vladivostok would take it close to Syria’s Mediterranean coast.
“As a purely commercial organisation, Femco is informing that the Alaed is carrying out a commercial trip on the basis of a time charter contract with a Russian state company,” the statement said.