Naval Service trailed ship linked to Syrian arms


A RUSSIAN ship suspected of carrying helicopters and arms to Syria was monitored by the Naval Service and Irish Coast Guard over the past two days as it appeared to be on a course for the west Irish coast.

It is understood that legal advice was sought about boarding and inspecting the ship’s cargo by the Naval Service if it did enter Irish waters.

However, the vessel turned around off Scotland when its insurance cover was withdrawn on Monday.

The 130m cargo ship MV Alaed is believed to be returning to Vladivostok, as it would have been unable to berth in port without insurance cover.

British marine insurer Standard Club confirmed that it had withdrawn the insurance after it was “made aware of the allegations that the Alaed was carrying munitions destined for Syria”.

It said it had informed the ship owner that insurance cover “ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage”.

It is understood the company was informed that the shipment could be in breach of an EU sanction initiated last year on exporting arms to Syria and provision of related services.

The Army press office confirmed yesterday that it “became aware” of the ship’s location off the Scottish coast earlier this week, and both the Naval Service and Irish Coast Guard were asked to monitor it.

However “no action was taken” when the ship turned around, a spokesman said.

The MV Alaed left St Petersburg on June 4th, and was heading south for the English Channel via the North Sea en route to the Mediterranean, when it changed course and went up the east coast of England to Scotland.

It was north west of the Hebrides when it turned back and headed east for the North Sea, with a stated destination of Vladivostok.

Ships have a right of innocent passage in international waters, unless they are not flying their flag or pose an imminent or serious threat to the marine environment.

The ship could have been boarded automatically if within the Irish 12-mile limit, but beyond that the legal situation is complex – UN Security Council resolutions are ambiguous on the issue.

Maritime law was tested successfully by the Naval Service in early November 2008 when it intercepted the cocaine-smuggling yacht Dances with Waves outside territorial waters.

Both the LE Niamh and LE Róisín were launched, and two rigid inflatable boats were launched from the LE Niamh with 10 armed Naval Service personnel when the yacht was 150 nautical miles off Mizen Head. The operation was described as a “compliant armed boarding”.

Bloomberg news agency reported yesterday that Russia’s foreign ministry said there were “no new deliveries” to Syria, but Russia had repaired helicopters it sold to Syria in the Soviet era.