The Daily Telegraph reports that Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State, raised concerns last week about a Russian cargo ship, named as the MV Alaed. Security officers believed the vessel was taking Russian-manufactured Mi25 helicopters to Syria. Ms Clinton expressed the fear that such helicopters could be used to attack Syrian citizens.
The ship originally picked up its cargo from the Russian port of Kaliningrad, and was reported to be heading for the Syrian port of Tartous, which is also the site of a Russian naval base.
After leaving the Baltic, the ship sailed south through the North Sea. However, the MV Alaed was challenged by Dutch authorities as it neared the coast of the Netherlands. The ship then detoured sharply, according to the newspaper, and headed towards Scotland.
According to the UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, speaking yesterday in the House of Commons, the ship is now returning to Russia after lying off the west coast of the Hebrides for a day.
Ms Clinton specifically asked the British Government to intervene, passing on information that the ship’s insurers were a British-owned company. Subsequently the British marine insurer, Standard Club, issued a statement saying it had withdrawn cover from all the ships owned by Femco, a Russian cargo line, including the MV Alaed.
Withdrawal of insurance means the MV Alaed cannot sail to Syria until its owner secures new cover.
Standard Club said: “We were made aware of the allegations that the Alaed was carrying munitions destined for Syria. We have informed the ship owner that their insurance cover ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage.”
It is believed the MV Alaed was off the coast of the Western Isles when Femco’s insurance was withdrawn.
Exporting arms to Syria is a breach of the European Union-imposed arms embargo on that country. However, British security officials informed Standard Club that providing insurance to the shipment could also constitute a breach of further EU trade and commercial sanctions against the oppressive regime.
It will be interesting to see what happens if the ship returns with a new insurer and Britain is forced to take a similar decision, using force rather than insurance technicalities.