Turkey to search German ship over Syria arms claim

Turkey will search a German-owned ship over allegations it is carrying weapons to Syria, officials said Wednesday.

The Atlantic Cruiser was halted in the Mediterranean last week, after its owners received information -- allegedly from Syrian government defectors -- that it may be carrying weapons.

Neither the German owner of the ship, W. Bockstiegel Reederei, nor a Ukrainian company that chartered it had any indications it was carrying any "weapons, munitions or military equipment," according to a statement from the owner on Monday.

The owner of the ship said it had a long-standing relationship with the Ukrainian company and no problems in the past. The contract also stipulates that the ship only be used for "lawful cargo," Bockstiegel said.

The shipping company said Wednesday that it had no comment beyond the printed statement.

A Turkish foreign ministry official said Wednesday the Antigua & Barbuda-flagged ship was towed to the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun and will be searched after it unloads some cargo for Turkey. The official spoke anonymously in line with government rules.

Turkey enforces an arms embargo against Syria over its crackdown on a popular uprising.

The goods being carried by the ship were loaded on board in Mumbai, India, and were destined for Syria, Turkey and Montenegro. A delivery had already been made to Djibouti, but nothing new was taken on board there, the shipping company said.

According to the company's records, the shipment for Syria consisted of parts for a thermal power station project.

It did say, however, that on April 13 it received an e-mail from an organization calling itself the "Syrian Revolution Naval Forces" claiming the ship was carrying weapons for Syria.

Bockstiegel said it ordered the Atlantic Cruiser to stop its journey after receiving the email -- which it said threatened that the ship would be attacked if it tried to dock in Syria.

It said its manifest papers indicate cables and pipes are the ship's main cargo, but that it won't be able to say for sure what is on it until it is unloaded and inspected. It said the crew only had access to what was on the deck of the ship, and not all of the cargo.

The company said also it has remained in close contact with the German government on the matter, which is looking into a possible breach of a European Union arms embargo against Syria.

"It goes without saying that the company adheres to the law closely," Bockstiegel said in its statement. "Naturally that also includes the European Union's weapons embargo against Syria."

Syrian forces fired a barrage of mortar shells at an opposition stronghold Wednesday even as the Syrian government said it would respect a week-old cease-fire and withdraw troops from urban centers in line with an international peace plan.