A British marine insurer has withdrawn cover from a Russian ship believed to be carrying overhauled combat helicopters to Syria, after finding out there were weapons on-board.
The MV Alaed, currently in the North Sea, is believed to be carrying a cargo of Mil Mi-25 attack helicopters en route to Syria from Russia as well as coastal-based anti-ship missiles. Russian cargo line Femco, which owns the MV Alaed, says the insurer, Standard Club, has suspended cover on its ships.
Standard Club told RIA Novosti in a statement, "We have already informed the ship owner that their insurance cover ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage." It added that it had taken the course of action after being made aware of allegations about the cargo and destination of the MV Alaed.
"We were made aware of the allegations that the Alaed was carrying munitions destined for Syria," the insurer said.
According to the FEMCO website, the MV Alaed’s commercial management and chartering is carried out by Copenhagen-based United Nordic Shipping. It said in a statement on its website that the contract with United Nordic Shipping had been cancelled.
"By mutual agreement, the contract between the ship owner and United Nordic Shipping A/S for the commercial management of the MV Alaed was annulled today, on Monday June 18, without actually coming into force," Femco said in a statement on its website.
Standard Club denied that the move was made at the behest of the British government. "There was no pressure at all from the UK government that I am aware of," a company spokesman said.
Britain’s Daily Telegraph says British security officials told Standard Club it would be breaching an EU arms embargo, imposed last year, if it provided cover to a ship making weapons deliveries. Without insurance cover, the vessel would be unable to put into port. The Telegraph added that the United Kingdom government was notified last week by the US government that the insurance was provided by a British insurer.
The helicopters became the center of a diplomatic row last week, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claiming Russia was supplying weapons that would be used to massacre civilian protesters.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied the claim, saying the helicopters had originally been supplied in the Soviet-era and were being returned to Syria under an existing contract. He also said military equipment being supplied to Syria was defensive in nature and could not be used against civilians.