13 Jan 2012 Defensenews (AFP)
ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - A Russian ship carrying a "dangerous cargo" has sailed for Syria after a brief stopover in Cyprus, despite a pledge reportedly given to Cypriot authorities, the vessel's owner said Jan. 13.
An independent Russian military analyst separately reported that the ship was likely to dock at the Syrian port of Tartus with what media said may be up to 60 ton of ammunition supplied by the state Russian arms exporter.
The Cypriot foreign ministry said Jan. 11 the Saint Vincent-flagged cargo ship was allowed to refuel and set sail from the port of Limassol after its Russian owners agreed to change the destination from Syria.
Cyprus inspectors said the ship's documents showed Turkey as an alternative destination point.
But the vessel's St. Petersburg-based operator Westberg Ltd said the Chariot decided to keep to its original schedule after leaving the Cyprus port.
"It was classified as a dangerous cargo, but that could really mean anything. We are not responsible for knowing what was inside the crates," a source at the shipping company told AFP.
The source refused to confirm a Russian state media report saying the cargo was being shipped by the state arms export agency Rosoboronexport through a freight company called Balchart.
Both Rosoboronexport and Balchart declined to comment when contacted by AFP.
But the respected Russian shipping analyst Mikhail Voitenko said on his Maritime Bulletin website on Jan. 12 that the Chariot had taken a direct course for the port of Tartus where Russia has a naval base.
He added that the ship's precise current location could not be determined because it had switched off its international tracking device about half way between Cyprus and Syria.
Moscow has defended Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad against global pressure and has argued that its ongoing arms sales were permitted under international law and would continue.
A Russian military source said on Dec. 1 that Moscow had delivered supersonic cruise missiles to Syria that protect the Arab state's shoreline against a naval attack.
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