Ship with Syria choppers enters Russian port

24th June 2012, Comments 0 comments

A Russian ship that tried to deliver repaired attack helicopters to Syria entered the northern port of Murmansk on Sunday after being forced to turn back when its mission was leaked to the press.

The local naval port authority said the Alaed had dropped anchor but would not be docking to remove its cargo as it lowers the flag of the Caribbean island of Curacao under which it had originally sailed.

"It has entered Severomorsk harbour (in Murmansk), where it will anchor," Interfax quoted a port spokesman as saying at the Northern Fleet base.

An unnamed Russian diplomatic source had earlier told the news agency that the ship would soon try again to make the highly controversial delivery under the Russian flag.

The switch appears to be an attempt to avoid security inspections that come when sailing under the flag of a third country.

Russia says the Soviet-era Mi-25 helicopters are being returned to Syria after undergoing repairs at a factory in its Kaliningrad exclave under a contract that could not be breached.

The Alaed was forced to turn back after its mission was initially mentioned by the US State Department and then reported in detail -- including its precise location -- by the British press.

Those reports prompted the ship's British insurer to withdraw coverage -- a move that effectively barred the Alaed from entering any other ports on its journey.

Russia has leased the Tartus supply and maintenance base from Syria for decades but requires its cargo vessels to make refuelling stops during deliveries.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday confirmed that the ship was carrying "three helicopters that had been repaired" by Russia for Syria under a 2008 agreement.

Lavrov will meet US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Saint Petersburg in the coming days for talks that have been clouded by angry rhetoric from both sides about the shipment.

Russia's top diplomat said on Thursday he felt no need to justify Russia's behaviour to the United States as Moscow had not violated any rules.

© 2012 AFP

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