* UK told Moscow defence shipments must stop
* Syria receiving military hardware in ships
By Jonathan Saul and Thomas Grove
LONDON/MOSCOW June 19 A cargo ship now moving
off the north-west coast of Scotland is believed to be carrying
Russian weaponry to Syria, according to an insurer which says it
has withdrawn coverage for the vessel.
Britain said it was aware of a consignment of refurbished
Russian-made attack helicopters heading for Syria, but did not
say if it was referring to the same vessel.
Russia has faced increasing Western criticism over arms
supplies to Syria, where the United Nations says government
forces have killed more than 10,000 people in a crackdown. Last
month, the U.S. described the delivery of heavy Russian weapons
in a shipment as "reprehensible".
Ship tracking data showed on Tuesday that the
Curacao-flagged cargo ship Alaed set off from the Russian port
of Baltiisk in the province of Kaliningrad on June 11.
London-headquartered ship insurer Standard Club said it had
been contacted about the vessel it had been covering, but did
not say by whom.
"We were made aware of the allegations that the Alaed was
carrying munitions destined for Syria and have already informed
the ship owner that their insurance cover ceased automatically
in view of the nature of the voyage," the insurer said.
Moscow-based Russian ship management and operator group
Femco, operating the Alaed, offered no comment when contacted
several times by Reuters about the ship and its cargo. But it
said it would post comment on its website later in the day with
Insurers would be obliged to withdraw coverage for any
shipments violating European Union sanctions, including an arms
embargo on Syria. Without insurance, the vessel could be forced
either to dock at a port, drop its run to Syria or find a
provider outside the European Union.
The Alaed was last seen off the coast of Scotland and
declared as heading for the Russian port of Vladivostok where it
was due to arrive on July 24, tracking data showed on Tuesday.
A British Foreign Office spokeswoman said London was aware
of "a ship carrying a consignment of refurbished Russian-made
attack helicopters heading to Syria", but did not say whether
she was referring to the Alaed.
"We are working closely with international partners to
ensure that we are doing all we can to stop the Syrian regime's
ability to slaughter civilians being reinforced through
assistance from other countries."
A Moscow-based defence analyst said the Alaed was carrying
helicopters that were bought by Syria during the Soviet era and
had been sent back to Russia for repair in the Baltic Sea
exclave of Kaliningrad.
"I am sure based on open source material that the ship is
carrying 12-15 helicopters that were repaired in Kaliningrad and
are on their way to Syria," said Ruslan Aliyev, who works at
defence think tank CAST, referring to an order of M-25
"They were old helicopters bought by (Assad's late father
and predecessor) Hafez al-Assad, I believe at the end of the
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on June 12 that
the United States was "concerned about the latest information we
have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to
Syria." She said such a sale "will escalate the conflict quite
The accusation angered Moscow, which says it is fulfilling
existing contracts for air defence systems, for use against
external attacks, and not delivering offensive weapons. Under
pressure over continuing arms trade with Syria, President
Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that the weapons its
sends could not be used in civil conflicts.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said last week that Russia had
sent no new helicopters to Syria but had repaired helicopters
delivered to its government "many years ago". It gave no
specifics about when any helicopters were repaired or sent back
SHIPMENT HALT URGED
A source close to Russia's arms exporting monopoly
Rosoboronexport said last week that Clinton may have been
referring to helicopters that were sent to Russia in 2009 for
repairs and may have been on the way back to Syria.
The source said at least nine Mi-25 helicopters were sent to
Kaliningrad to be repaired by Oboronservis, owned by the Defence
A spokesman for insurer Standard Club said the company
informed about termination of cover was Femco.
A rights group reported that the Professor Katsman ship had
docked at the Syrian port of Tartous last month with a cache of
heavy weapons for Assad.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Abbas in London)