Suspected Syria munitions boat to leave Cyprus

Reuters News
Posted: Jan 11, 2012 5:09 AM
Suspected Syria munitions boat to leave Cyprus

NICOSIA (Reuters) - A ship reportedly carrying ammunition to Syria will be allowed to leave Cyprus after giving authorities assurances it will change its destination, a government official said Wednesday.

Media reports said the cargo ship was carrying up to 60 tonnes of ammunition and was heading to the Syrian port city of Latakia. It docked off Cyprus Tuesday amid rough seas.

"It has been decided the vessel will be released after the ship decided to change its destination and will not go to Syria," Cypriot government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou told state radio.

He declined to comment on the cargo of the ship, which one newspaper said sailed from St. Petersburg about a month ago. He did not specify the reasons for the vessel switching course or its new destination.

Authorities would be in a position to issue more information later Wednesday, he said.

The Politis daily reported the vessel, which it identified as the M/V Chariot flying the St. Vincent flag, was carrying ammunition of various calibers and that the recipient was the Syrian Ministry of Defense.

Another newspaper, Simerini, said initial reports suggested the vessel was carrying 35 tonnes of explosives, weapons and munitions.

In 2009, Cyprus confiscated munitions from a ship sailing to Syria from Iran for violating U.N. sanctions.

The deteriorating cargo, stored in scorching temperatures close to Cyprus's largest power station, exploded in July last year killing 13 people and destroying the facility. The disaster

triggered a government crisis which forced the resignation of the defense and foreign ministers.

(Writing By Michele Kambas; Editing by Robert Birsel)