A shipment of 69 surface-to-air missiles impounded by Finnish authorities was a legitimate delivery from Germany to South Korea, a German official said Thursday.
The announcement came after Finnish authorities seized the Patriot missiles and 160 tons of explosives on a British-registered cargo ship and detained two Ukrainian crew members on suspicion of violating weapons export laws.
Police said the missiles didn't have the right transit documents and the explosive picric acid wasn't properly stored on the M/S Thor Liberty, which docked in Kotka, southern Finland, on Dec. 15.
A spokesman for Germany's Defense Ministry said the missiles were an official shipment that was fully declared and had all necessary clearings from German authorities.
"Those patriot guided missiles are from the Bundeswehr's stocks and have been shipped to South Korea" according to an intergovernmental treaty, he said, declining to be named in line with government policy.
He said no explosives were part of the shipment and he didn't have any information on that part of the impounded cargo.
Finnish officials said the explosives were destined for China. Markku Koskinen, the director of traffic operations at the port of Kotka, said they were deficiently packed in wooden boxes on open pallets and would be moved to metal containers in line with rules on the maritime transport of explosives.
"We will do that as soon as the customs inspectors allow us to," Koskinen told The Associated Press. "Otherwise, the shipment of explosives was legitimate and can continue on its way to China as soon as it's safely packed."
The ship sailed from the north German port of Emden on Dec. 13 and was en route to China, Finnish officials said. It docked in Kotka to pick up a cargo of anchor chains and an old paper machine.
Finnish officials impounded the cargo Wednesday and launched an investigation. Detective Superintendent Timo Virtanen said the ship's captain and first mate were detained.
"The missiles did not have the appropriate transit papers," Virtanen said. "We are questioning all the other 11 crew members who are also Ukrainians."
Klaus Kaartinen, spokesman for the National Bureau of Investigation, said Finnish police and customs would continue their investigation into the cargo.
"Even if the missile cargo is a legitimate shipment, from a Finnish point of view the law has probably been broken because it was not properly declared," Kaartinen said. "Also, the explosives were stored improperly."
American-made Patriot missiles are used to counter threats, including aircraft, tactical ballistic missiles and cruise missiles. They are part of the U.S. Army's weaponry and were extensively used during the 1991 Gulf war.
Manufactured by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control in Florida, Patriot missiles have been in service in several countries, including Egypt, Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan and South Korea.
Associated Press writer Juergen Baetz in Berlin contributed to this report.