Explosives ship intercepted

Jun 24, 2003
Author: P&S

A 2,242-gt cargo ship Baltic Sky intercepted on Sunday (22 June) by Greek special forces and described as a ‘floating bomb’ was found to have 680 tonnes of undeclared ‘explosives’ – ammonium nitrate based - on board, as well as 8,000 detonators.

Ammonium nitrate is often used in the manufacture of fertiliser but is also used in the explosives industry.

According to Greek reports the explosives cargo was loaded in Tunisia on 12 May and was destined for a Sudanese company. When the 1966-built Baltic Sky was intercepted in the Ionian Sea its final destination remained unclear and the ship’s progress was being kept under surveillance. The vessel had been wandering the Mediterranean for several weeks without seeming to head for Suez and on 21 May had docked at Istanbul after declaring its cargo as explosives.

Baltic Sky carries a crew of seven – five Ukrainians and two Azerbaijanis.

News agency reports subsequently quote the Sudan foreign minister Mustafa Osman Ismail as saying the shipment had been cleared by his government and was destined for the Sudan.

Baltic Sky is flying the Comoros flag and is owned by Alpha Shipping, based on Marshall Islands. Both are ‘flag of convenience’ maritime states.

The vessel was originally called the Artsiz and sailed under the Russian and Ukraine flags until 18 July 2001. It then changed to the Cambodian flag and was renamed Sea Runner after being sold to a new owner in Estonia.

According to the International Transport Federation (ITF), there have been numerous problems on board the ship that resulted in several ITF actions on behalf of the crew. These eventually culminated in the auction of the ship in January 2003 for a price of USD37,000. The ship was released on 7 March 2003 and was purchased, renamed Baltic Sky and registered in Cambodia. Shortly afterwards the ship was re-flagged to the Comoros Islands.

The Union of Comoros is a group of islands in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mozambique. They are several thousand miles from the actual Comoros Maritime Administration, which is registered in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Comoros Islands has branded itself as the first Islamic flag of convenience and has expanded to 83 vessels, most of which are built in the 1960s and 1970s.

According to the ITF the Comoros flag has a poor reputation in shipping circles, mainly due to the age of the vessels flagged. Regarding the ships owners, the ITF indicates that a company called Alpha Shipping Inc, which is registered in the Marshall Islands (another flag of convenience address) is the registered owner of the Baltic Sky.

“It is unclear as to who the real ‘beneficial owner’ is,” said the ITF yesterday (23 June). “Lloyds Seasearcher, which is the standard database for the shipping industry, lists the manager as Unithorn Ltd, of Hazlewood, Sligo, Ireland.”

The ITF says that on 14 March 2003 Unithorn Ltd paid the figure of USD37,000 to the Admiralty Marshall and concludes that little is known about the actual ownership details of the ship.

“It’s still too early to know whether this was a shoddy and risky, but not illegal, voyage, or something much more dangerous. What we do know is that naval forces have done what they had to, by investigating a ship whose flag alone sends out danger signals,” said David Cockroft, general secretary of the ITF.

Baltic Sky is being detained at the Greek port of Platiyali where Greek authorities are investigating.

Greek shipping authorities have since confirmed the ship was heading for Sudan.

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