A SHIP believed to be carrying a consignment of refurbished attack helicopters known as "flying tanks" to Syria is on its way back to Russia after Britain intervened to halt the shipment, Foreign Secretary William Hague said yesterday.
The Russian-operated MV Alaed's London-based insurer, Standard Club, withdrew its coverage after questions were raised about the ship's cargo. After halting for several hours off the Western Isles, Mr Hague said the ship had turned back.
The US is understood to have asked British officials to pressure Standard Club to cease its cover, citing EU sanctions controlling the transfer of arms to the country. Accusations by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, that Russia was sending Syria attack helicopters -- which are increasingly being used by the Assad regime in its assaults on rebel strongholds -- set off an angry war of words between Moscow and Washington last week.
"We've had discussions with Russia about (the supply of arms to Syria) specifically and I'm pleased the ship that was reported to be carrying arms to Syria has now turned back, apparently towards Russia," Mr Hague told Parliament yesterday.
Lack of insurance would impede the MV Alaed's ability to dock legally. Though this is unlikely to be an issue at its destination, the ship would be unable to refuel elsewhere, which may have forced its decision to return to port. It is reported to be carrying a dozen M-25 helicopters, which were reserved in Kaliningrad. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said helicopter gunships were used yesterday in a fresh attack on the rebel bastion of Rastan.
As the continued violence cast further doubts about the future of the UN mission, its chief prepared to brief the Security Council in New York.
The Security Council will make the final decision as to whether its 300-strong team should be brought home. Maj-Gen Mood has urged both sides to allow the safe evacuation of women, children, the elderly and injured from conflict zones. ((© Independent News Service)