Finland lifts embargo on missiles, explosives

AP News
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Posted: Jan 05, 2012 11:41 AM

Finnish officials on Thursday lifted an embargo on a shipment of 69 Patriot missiles and some 160 tons of explosives impounded from a ship, but charged the vessel's top two officers with endangering the crew.

The prosecutor general's office said the captain and first mate of the British-registered M/S Thor Liberty acted negligently when overseeing the loading of the explosive picric acid. The acid was deficiently packed and could have endangered the crew, officials said.

"They had been negligent when monitoring the loading of the explosives that were not packed according to international maritime regulations," State Prosecutor Juha-Mikko Hamalainen said.

If found guilty, the two men _ both Ukrainians, like the rest of the crew _ face a maximum three-month prison sentence, or more likely will be fined, Hamalainen said. He said both had pleaded not guilty.

They are free to leave along with the other 11 crew members because their cases can be held in absentia, Hamalainen said.

The vessel arrived in the southern port of Kotka last month from Germany to pick up a cargo of anchor chains and paper machine parts, destined for China.

It was impounded on Dec. 21 after port authorities discovered the surface-to-air missiles, which officials said lacked the necessary transit documents required for all weapons, and the inadequately packed explosives.

The missiles were eventually determined to be heading to South Korea as an official government shipment from Germany. Officials declined to say where the explosives were destined, saying the documentation was in order and that the picric acid needed no special permits.

"Now they (the crew) are all free to travel. The ship, the missiles and the explosives can leave," said Petri Lounatmaa, a spokesman for Finnish Customs. "Our joint investigation with the police will, however, continue." He declined to give details.