The Greek Coastguard has intercepted a Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship with around 20,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles on board. The intended destination of the vessel, halted near the Imia islets in the eastern Aegean, remains unknown.
The cargo ship Nour M, intercepted on Thursday night, was taken to the island of Symi the following morning under the escort of Coastguard vessels, where it was soon thereafter led to the island of Rhodes.
The vessel’s Turkish captain and seven crew members, two of whom were Turkish and five of whom were Indian, were placed under arrest, coastguard sources told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA).
The cargo was both larger than that declared on the ship’s manifest, and the ship did not have the proper UN documents to deliver cargo to a conflict zone. The Greek Coastguard issued a statement saying attempts to catalogue the firearms and munitions onboard were ongoing.
“The exact destination of the arms and ammunition has yet to be verified," the coastguard statement read. Apart from the large quantity of firearms, the ship was also allegedly carrying a “large” quantity of explosives. A probe determined the ship had previously been used for drug trafficking.
Sources told ANA-MPA that the vessel had set sail from Ukraine, although the ship’s final destination remains unclear. Although the ports of Tartus in Syria and Tripoli in Libya had both been declared as destination ports to marine traffic systems, the Turkish Mediterranean port city of Iskenderun was declared as the destination port by the ship's captain.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said they are attempting to determine if the Nour departed from the country.
Maritime expert Mikhail Voitenko told Ukraine’s Vesti that the ship likely picked up its cargo in Istanbul.
“I think it was there for no other purpose than to get the weapons. It is also strange that it took the ship two weeks to get from Nikolaev [Ukraine] to Greece when the trip takes a maximum of five days. What it was doing and where it was doing it at the time: that is the question.”
Voitenko said the vessel was likely detained as the result of a tip-off.
“That we have this ship sailing through the Black Sea is
strange, but through Greek ‘territorial waters] it went in a
straight line, so police had no reason to detain the ship,”