Saudi ship leaves Spain with ceremonial, exhibition materials: source

SANTANDER/MADRID (Reuters) - A Saudi ship that was blocked from loading a weapons cargo in France left the Spanish port of Santander on Monday carrying material destined for Saudi Arabia that could be used in military ceremonies, but not wars, a Spanish government source said.

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On Friday, rights groups prevented the Bahri-Yanbu from receiving arms at the French port of Le Havre due to concerns they would be used by Saudi Arabia against civilians in Yemen’s war.

The vessel, that carries a separate consignment of arms loaded in Antwerp, set sail from Santander at 1:50 p.m. (1150 GMT) bound for Genoa, Italy, according to ship tracking data.

The Spanish source said the material could be used for cannon salutes in military ceremonies in Saudi Arabia. The vessel was also carrying exhibition materials for the United Arab Emirates.

“There are two loads,” the source said. “They comply with all the norms, they are not for the war in Yemen, they are not for use in war.”

The equipment was made by Spanish firm Instalaza, according to the source. The company was not immediately available for comment. Santander port authorities could not immediately be reached.

Ara Marcen Naval, Deputy Director for Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, said the ship’s journey was a test.

“No EU state should be making the deadly decision to authorize the transfer or transit of arms to a conflict where there is a clear risk they will be used in war crimes and other serious violations of international law,” Naval said in a statement on Monday.

French rights group ACAT argued in a legal challenge on Thursday that the arms consignment contravened a U.N. treaty because the weapons might be used against civilians in Yemen, though the case was thrown out by a French judge.

A classified report written by France’s DRM military intelligence agency and published by investigative website Disclose in April showed French arms were being used against civilians in the civil war in Yemen.

In Yemen, tens of thousands of people have been killed by fighting in a war pitting a Saudi-led military coalition against Iran-aligned Houthi rebels. The war has spawned what the U.N. calls the world’s most dire humanitarian crisis.

Spain’s acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists have in the past backed arms sales to Riyadh, though the issue remains divisive in Spain amid concern over the casualties of the war in Yemen.

Last year, the government announced it would halt the sale of 400 laser guided bombs to Saudi Arabia only to reverse its decision a few days later.

Reporting by Vincent West in Santander,; Additional reporting by Belen Carreno, Paul Day and Joan Faus; Writing by Paul Day; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Toby Chopra