Ship carrying 20,000 Kalashnikov rifles seized in Greece
November 11, 2013
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Hellenic Coast Guard in Greece has seized a cargo ship carrying explosives, ammunition, and about 20,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, allegedly bound for Syria or Libya. The Associated Press quoted an anonymous official from the Greek Ministry of Mercantile Marine, who said that the ship, Nour-M, is flagged under Sierra Leone and set sail from Ukraine early last week. It was intercepted on Friday while passing through Greek territorial waters, near the Aegean island of Symi. Upon inspection, it was found to be carrying thousands of AK-47s, as well as ammunition and an undisclosed quantity of explosives. As the ship’s documentation did not mention the highly irregular cargo, the Greek authorities decided to escort the vessel to the eastern Aegean island of Rhodes, where it remains under Coast Guard protection. The ship’s crew of three Turkish nationals, including the captain, and three Indian nationals, have been arrested. Interestingly, some maritime transportation databases state the vessel’s destination port as Tartus in Syria, while others suggest it was headed to Tripoli in Libya. Adding to the perplexity of the case, the ship’s Turkish captain told Greek authorities that his destination port was Iskenderun in Turkey. The Greek government has refused to give details about the ship’s itinerary, stating simply that “the exact destination of the arms and ammunition has yet to be verified”, while no precise information has been provided about Nour-M’s cargo. There are unconfirmed reports, however, that, in the past, the same vessel has troubled international maritime authorities, who suspect its captain of involvement in international narcotics smuggling. On Friday, the Reuters news agency aired an insightful analysis on the strong connection between the political chaos that rains in the Middle East and North Africa and the increase in smuggling activity across the Mediterranean. The report states that the political fallout caused by the Arab Spring has fueled a near-unprecedented surge in the smuggling of people, weapons and drugs from and to North Africa and the Middle East. The two most attractive end points for gun smugglers seeking to import small arms from Eastern Europe appear to be Syria and Libya, which have become the destinations of choice for “massive arms smuggling”, according to Reuters. The news agency quotes Masood Karimipour, North Africa and Middle East representative for the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime. He says that the situation in those two volatile regions has produced “a perfect storm of money, conflict, instability and illicit supply and demand”.