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Germany probes alleged arms shipment to Syria

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A German-owned ship that is suspected of trying to transport Iranian weapons to Syria has been diverted to an unspecified port for inspection by German authorities.

Berlin has said it is investigating a report that the Atlantic Cruiser in the Mediterranean en route to Syria was carrying arms in breach of an embargo imposed over the Syrian government's violent crackdown on a year-long pro-democracy protest movement.

"The economy ministry has been in contact with the owner of the ship. The ship will now head for a safe port (in a different country). There the goods will be checked," a spokeswoman for the economy ministry told Reuters.

She said she did not know specifically where the ship would dock for the inspection.

Der Spiegel, the German magazine, reported on its website that the ship had been chartered to White Whale Shipping, a Ukraine-based company, which had declared the cargo as "pumps and the like".

Contrary to the claim, Torsten Lueddeke, a ship broker of Hamburg-based CEG Bulk Chartering, was quoted as saying: "We stopped the ship after we received information on the weapons cargo".

Der Spiegel reported the ship had loaded the cargo in Djibouti this week and changed course for the Turkish city of Iskenderun in Turkey on Friday when the cargo was at risk of being uncovered.

The ship stopped about 80km southwest of the Syrian port of Tartus, its initial destination, it said. No other details were available on its movements.

On Sunday, Spiegel reported that the ship had turned off its radio transmitter, which allows it to be tracked, thus making
its location uncertain.

Western sanctions imposed on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad include an arms embargo and a ban on importing Syrian oil into the European Union.

According to German law, a breach of such embargoes can lead to a maximum five-year prison sentence or a fine.

Spiegel also reported that the government was asking embassies in the region to alert their host governments to a possible breach of embargo by the ship, especially those in Cyprus, Lebanon and Turkey. The ministry spokeswoman confirmed the report.

Cyprus's foreign minister Erato Kozakou-Markoullis said on state television on Saturday she had given instructions not to grant permission to the ship to approach the island.

Syrian opposition leaders and activists have long accused the Iranian government of deploying troops and supplying weapons in support of the Syrian military's efforts to quell the nationwide uprising.


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