Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat – Turkey yesterday announced that it had boarded and begun inspecting a German-owned cargo ship heading to Syria in order to confirm it is not carrying any arms or ammunition. Well-informed sources initially claimed that Ankara had diverted the ship to the Turkish port of Iskenderun, a claim that Turkish officials have strenuously denied. Turkish officials stressed that the German-owned cargo ship, “the Atlantic Cruiser”, was carrying cargo that was scheduled to be delivered in Turkey before continuing its journey onwards to Syria. Other sources revealed that this inspection is taking place with the approval of the German shipping company, which stresses that the ship is carrying parts for a coal plant which are being sent to the Syrian Ministry of Electricity.
An official Turkish source refused to rule out the presence of arms shipments on the ship in question, revealing that Ankara has previously stopped more than one ship carrying arms to Syria. The Turkish source stressed that attempts are being made to illegally transport arms into Syria via Turkish territory, due to the “unsuitable environment” which makes it difficult to transfer arms into Syria via neighboring Iraq.
For his part, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal informed Asharq Al-Awsat that “the Atlantic Cruiser entered Turkish regional waters yesterday [Tuesday] night and docked at Iskenderun port yesterday [Wednesday] to be inspected by Turkish authorities.”
He added that this inspection follows “reports that this ship is carrying weapons or ammunition bound for Syria.”
Unal also revealed that the Atlantic Cruiser was also carrying cargo bound for Turkey, adding that this cargo will be offloaded before the inspection process begins, which aims to ensure that the ship is not carrying any banned substances or illegal items, including arms.
The Turkish Anadolu News Agency revealed that the ship’s cargo includes “civilian-purpose explosives and equipment for a coal plant project.”
The Atlantic Cruiser’s Ukrainian captain presented Turkish authorities with the cargo manifest, which includes 313 tons of civilian-purpose explosives, fuse and capsules destined for six different Turkish sources, as well as a separate cargo of 31 tons of civilian-purpose explosives headed for Croatia.
The cargo manifest also shows that the ship is carrying 69 tons of oil-refinery equipment bound for Russia, as well as 945 tons of parts for a coal plant project bound for the Syrian port of Tartus.
Citing unnamed dissident sources within the Syrian government, the German Der Spiegel magazine reported that the Atlantic Cruiser was carrying Iranian arms to Syria, which were loaded at a port in Djibouti.
The Atlantic Cruiser’s Hamburg –based owner, W. Bockstiegel Reederei GMBH, issued a statement on Monday denying that the ship was carrying any weapons.
“According to the documents at the disposal of the ship owners, the cargo destined for Syria is composed of parts of a thermal plant (“Tishreen Thermal Power Station Extension Project”) which were shipped by an Indian power plant manufacturer to the Syrian Ministry of Electricity.”
The previous actions of the Atlantic Cruiser’s crew raised suspicion regarding the nature of the vessel’s cargo. The ship’s Automatic Identification System [AIS] was turned off for hours at a time, the German shipping company ordered the ship to turn its transponder back on, and the Atlantic Cruiser was recoded to be sailing in circles in the waters between the island of Cyprus and Syria’s Mediterranean coast, before the ship eventually docked in Iskenderun.