Greece Probes Terror Links to Seized Ship
ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ A NATO anti-terrorism task force that monitors a ``black list″ of suspicious vessels in the Mediterranean alerted Greek authorities to seize a ship carrying tons of explosives allegedly bound for Sudan, officials said Tuesday.
The Comoros-flagged Baltic Sky was not on that list but it raised suspicions because of its meandering course, and investigators are trying to determine whether its cargo of 750 tons of explosives and an estimated 140,000 detonators is linked to terrorism, Greek Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Anomeritis said.
``There are 50 ships on the black list in the Mediterranean, others that are suspicious,″ Anomeritis said. ``Every day, we monitor what goes on with them.″
NATO launched its focus on suspicious ships, known as Operation Active Endeavor, after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The alliance, which includes Greece, protects shipping lanes and monitors vessels suspected of involvement in smuggling or terrorism.
NATO alerted the Greeks after the vessel was spotted acting suspiciously in the Black Sea, said Lt. Cmdr. Harvey Burwin, an Active Endeavour spokesman.
``Earlier this month, a southern region nation reported to (NATO) that the Baltic Sky was operating in an abnormal and suspicious pattern,″ Burwin said.
The alliance declined to identify the country that first alerted authorities or provide details about what activities prompted the suspicions.
The Baltic Sky carried 750 tons of industrial-grade ammonium nitrate that Sudan claimed was ordered legally by the Mutakamila Company for Chemicals and Development Ltd. in Khartoum.
Company spokesman Mutasim Mohammed Mahjoub said in the Sudanese capital Khartoum that the explosives were for road construction and other legitimate purposes.
``We don’t know what is all this row is about,″ Mahjoub said.
The shipment was due to arrive in Sudan on May 23 and the company, formed in November, does not know why it was delayed, Mahjoub told The Associated Press.
``What is taking place in Greece is disturbing our daily work here. Security men entered our offices and started to ask questions about what we are doing,″ he said.
In Tunisia, the manufacturer of the ammonium nitrate said the Sudanese company legally ordered the material but the shipper threatened not to deliver it.
The explosive, also known as ANFO, often is used in mining and construction. Homemade versions of ammonium nitrate bombs have been used in terrorist attacks _ from Oklahoma City in 1995 to last year’s Bali bombings.
Greek commandos boarded the ship Sunday after its wandering course in the Mediterranean and Black Sea set off international alarm, Anomeritis said.
The minister said he was suspicious about the cargo.
``Such a huge quantity is inconceivable to be headed toward a private company,″ Anomeritis told Flash Radio in Athens.
Officials also said they were justified in seizing the vessel because it entered Greek waters without declaring its hazardous load. Greek army demolition experts Tuesday unloaded detonators from the ship, anchored at Platiyali, 145 miles northwest of Athens.
The 37-year-old Baltic Sky _ built in Hungary _ was known as the Artsiz and Sea Runner. It has flown under the flags of Cambodia, Russia and Ukraine. British officials detained it last year for oil leaks and substandard safety equipment.
Greek officials say the 1,717-ton ship is registered to Alpha Shipping Inc., based in the Pacific Ocean nation of the Marshall Islands. Its flag, however, comes from the Comoros, a nation off southeast Africa that is used as a flag of convenience to avoid taxes and regulations.
Lloyd’s List reported that Christian McNulty, part of a well-known shipping family in Ireland, has claimed to be the main shareholder of Alpha. The Baltic Sky’s managing company is listed as Unithorn Ltd. based in Sligo, Ireland. McNulty could not be reached for comment.
Its crew of five Ukrainians and two Azerbaijanis will be arraigned Wednesday on charges of carrying an illegal cargo.