Greece seizes Libya-bound ship carrying explosive materials loaded in Turkish ports

File Photo.

Greek authorities have seized a Tanzanian-flagged ship heading for Libya and carrying materials, which have been loaded in Turkey’s İskenderun and Mersin ports, used to make explosives, the Greek coastguards said on Wednesday.

According to a report by Reuters, the vessel was detected sailing near the Greek island of Crete on Saturday. Authorities found 29 containers carrying materials including ammonium nitrate, non-electric detonators and 11 empty liquefied petroleum gas tanks. “The materials were headed to Libya,” Rear Admiral Ioannis Argiriou told reporters. He said the material could be used “for all sorts of work, from work in quarries to making bombs and acts of terrorism.”

European Union and United Nations-imposed arms embargoes have prohibited the sale, supply or transfer of arms to Libya since 2011. According to the ship’s bill of lading, the cargo had been loaded in the Turkish ports of Mersin and İskenderum and was destined for Djibouti and Oman.

But the Greek coastguard said a preliminary investigation found the captain had been ordered by the vessel’s owner to sail to the Libyan city of Misrata to unload and deliver the entire cargo. No shipping maps were found on the ship’s logbook for the Djibouti and Oman areas, the coastguard said. The eight-member crew has been arrested and will appear before a prosecutor on Thursday.

On September 2017, the Tin-Can Island Command of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) busted syndicates that smuggled weapons into Nigeria in containers containing guns from Turkey and apprehended weapons and ammunition two times within two weeks. Nigerian customs had said the guns were found in a 20-foot container marked No. CMAU189817/8.

The statement quoted Col. Hammed Ali, the comptroller-general, as narrating how the terminal operator quarantined the flagged container for stricter analysis. “It was transferred to the enforcement unit, where 100 percent examination revealed 470 pump action rifles as against elbow plumbing plastics on its bill of lading,” it said.

“Importer of this deadly cargo is Great James Oil and Gas Ltd, while the vessel is MV Arkas Africa owned by Hull Blyth. This discovery brings to a total of 2,671 rifles seized within the last eight months of this year,” said the statement. “Since this container belongs to the same importer of the 1,100 rifles, the ongoing investigation will be reinvigorated to fish out all those directly or remotely connected with these dangerous importers,” it added.

A top Nigerian official had also met with the Turkish ambassador to Nigeria after a container containing hundreds of guns from Turkey was confiscated. The Nigerian media had reported that this was the fourth time in a year that illegal arms shipments from Turkey were seized by customs officers in Nigeria. Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, said 2,671 rifles had been imported from Turkey since January.

“The government is worried about the incessant importation of arms from Turkey. This year alone, four shipments have come from that country,” customs spokesman Joseph Attah had told AFP. According to Attah, 470 rifles were seized on Tuesday less than two weeks after operatives of the Tin-Can Island Command of NCS busted a syndicate that smuggled over 1,100 weapons into Nigeria.

“We have found out that the people bringing in these weapons are Nigerians. They have syndicates in Turkey who are manifesting these weapons,” Atah said and added that “We are yet to get to the bottom of the whole issue. We will investigate to know if these weapons are meant for commercial purposes or group of insurgents or agitators.”

In January 2014, a number of trucks that were found to belong to MİT were stopped by Turkish gendarmes in two separate incidents in the southern provinces of Hatay and Adana, after prosecutors received tips that they were carrying arms to Syria.

Although the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has claimed that the trucks were transporting humanitarian aid to the Turkmen community in Syria, opposition voices have continued to question why, if the operation was within the law, the government intervened to prevent the trucks from being searched.

Cumhuriyet daily had reported in May 2015 that  trucks allegedly owned by the National Intelligence Organisation (MİT) were found to contain weapons and ammunition that were headed for Syria when they were stopped and searched in southern Turkey in early 2014.

When the MİT truck story first broke in 2015, it produced a political firestorm in Turkey about the role of the Turkish spy agency in arming rebel factions in Syria and prompted an investigation into Cumhuriyet daily journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, who published the report.

Also in 2014, Turkish Airlines attracted attention after a voice recording surfaced, allegedly a phone conversation between a senior Turkish Airlines (THY) official and one of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s advisers.

“Lots of material is on its way to Nigeria right now. Is it going to kill Muslims or Christians? I am sinning right now, you should know,” one voice, purportedly that of the THY official, says.

The voice supposedly of Erdoğan’s adviser says he would contact with MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan. Turkish Airlines denied carrying weapons and military equipment to Nigeria.

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