Manx authorities moved swiftly this week to downplay the news story about a Manx registered vessel being held by authorities in Finland after being found to be carrying arms and explosives.
However the story will not `go away’ and yesterday Baltic news sources were still citing difficulties over the ships cargo and destination.
A BBC report on Wednesday 21st December claimed the missiles were bound for China. This has since been disputed with the destination now cited as South Korea. In all other regards however the BBC report appears to have been accurate (see link):
Finnish news source HELSINGIN SANOMAT subsequently said that:
“Finnish Customs and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) are investigating a case of suspected illegal transit shipping of weaponry on a ship apparently bound for South Korea.
The cargo vessel, the M/S Thor Liberty, was found to be carrying 69 Patriot ground-to-air missiles as well as 159 tonnes of the explosive nitroguanidine. The missiles were armed with propelling charges.
The Ministry of Defence says that no application for permission for transit had been made for the missiles. An application had been filed for the explosives, but they were not properly packed.”
The paper also said:
“Detective superintendent Timo Virtanen of the NBI told Helsingin Sanomat that cargo documents for both the explosive and the missiles had been seized.
If the documents prove to be genuine, the shipment would seem to involve ordinary arms trading, and that getting the proper transit authorisation had simply been neglected.
Räsänen says that Finland has been in touch with German police on the matter.
The ship is registered in the Isle of Man, and its captain and navigating officer are to be questioned on Thursday on suspicion of failing to obtain a transit licence, and illegal export of defence materiel. They could also be charged with inadequate packaging of explosives.
Illegal export of defence materiel is punishable by a fine or up to four years imprisonment.
The Ukrainian crew of more than ten are to be questioned primarily as witnesses.
“Export licence cases have been investigated in previous years, but the large amount of explosives makes this case exceptional”, says Petri Lounatmaa of the anti-crime unit of Finnish Customs.
Lounatmaa says that he does not yet know if the cargo has some connection with previous missile deals between South Korea and Germany. “I cannot confirm this”, he said.”
It is not the first time the Isle of Man has become involved either directly in arms trading or in the transit of arms.
Arms trading into Africa using front companies in the Isle of Man was rife in the 1980s and 1990s and culminated in the infamous involvement of a Manx registered company in fuelling the Rwanda genocide.
More recently, in 2010, Iranian-owned vessels using companies registered in the Isle of Man were alleged to have been involved in the illicit transport of missiles destined for Middle East flashpoints. The Manx government on that occasion also downplayed the issue – however the Israeli government were emphatic that the events alleged had occurred.
Leaving aside the legitimacy or otherwise of the present arms shipments, for the Isle of Man to be involved (in however minor a role) in fuelling an arms race on the Korean peninsula (one of the most dangerously unstable areas on earth) is crass to say the least.
With the latest revelations coming so soon after the Iranian arms shipments scandal its past time the Isle of Man government came clean on just what weaponry has been shipped on Manx flagged vessels (or vessels managed by Manx registered companies) over the past five years.
Finnish news link here (several reports at this site):
Related links to Iranian arms trading issue on Celtic News here:
(This article compiled for Celtic News by Bernard Moffatt)
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