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Russian Ship to Syria Turned Back After U.K. Weapons Alert

A Russian ship’s insurance was canceled en route to Syria after British authorities said its cargo may be lethal and in violation of European Union sanctions, forcing the vessel to turn back.

“We were made aware of allegations that the Alaed was carrying munitions destined for Syria,” Standard Steamship Owners Protection and Indemnity Association (Europe) Ltd., a part of the Standard Club mutual insurance association, said in a statement today. “We have already informed the ship owner that their insurance cover ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage.”

The MV Alaed is owned by Femco, a shipping company based on the Far East island of Sakhalin, according to Russian registration documents. U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said the boat had reversed course after losing its insurance.

“I am pleased to report that the ship that was reportedly carrying arms to Syria has now turned back, apparently to Russia,” Hague told lawmakers in Parliament in London today.

The vessel was in the Norwegian Sea and continuing on its voyage, a company official in Moscow who declined to be identified said by telephone earlier today. No one at the company was available to comment on the report that the ship turned back.

Helicopters, Missiles

The boat was loaded with Mi-25 helicopters and missiles in Russia’s Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad and is destined for the Syrian port of Tartus, the Daily Telegraph reported, citing unidentified U.K. security officials who were alerted to the shipment by counterparts in the U.S. Satellite data compiled by Bloomberg showed the Alaed off the northwestern coast of Scotland at 7 p.m. Moscow time today.

“We are aware of a ship carrying a consignment of refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters heading to Syria,” the U.K. Foreign Office said in an e-mailed statement. “We are working closely with international partners to ensure that we are doing all we can to stop the Syrian regime’s ability to slaughter civilians being reinforced through assistance from other countries.”

Without insurance, a vessel can continue to travel, though it won’t be able load or unload any cargo at any commercial port, said Alexei Bezborodov, director of Infranews, a Russian transport and logistics research group. Russia maintains a naval base near Tartus, its only one outside the former Soviet Union.

EU Ban

The EU last year imposed a ban on “arms and equipment that may be used for internal repression” in Syria, according to the bloc’s website. More than 10,000 people have died in Syria since an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s government began 15 months ago. While U.S. President Barack Obama has called for Assad to step aside, Russia has blocked UN Security Council resolutions against his regime and accused the U.S. and its allies of trying to duplicate the armed overthrow of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.

Tensions between the U.S. and Russia flared last week when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused Russia of stoking the violence in Syria by delivering weapons and attack helicopters to Assad’s forces. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov retorted that, unlike the U.S., the Russians “aren’t shipping to Syria or anywhere else things that can be used against peaceful demonstrators.”

‘No New Deliveries’

The Foreign Ministry in Moscow said June 15 that while Russia had carried out repairs on helicopters it sold to Syria during the Soviet era, there are “no new deliveries.”

Vyacheslav Davidenko, a spokesman for Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, declined to comment on the Alaed immediately when Bloomberg called, as did the Defense Ministry’s press service in Moscow.

A boat owned by billionaire Vladimir Lisin’s North-Western Shipping Co., based in St. Petersburg, delivered weapons to Tartus last month, according to two people with direct knowledge of the matter.

Lisin issued a statement June 16 saying an internal investigation had uncovered no evidence that the boat in question, the Professor Katsman, unloaded anything but electrical equipment and rotor blades in Tartus.

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