Dutch Investigating Ship Suspected in Iraqi Supergun Project
VLISSINGEN, Netherlands (AP) _ Authorities are investigating the cargo of an impounded, Iraqi-bound ship suspected earlier of carrying parts for a ″supergun″ that could fire chemical warheads, a prosecutor’s spokeswoman said Friday.
The spokeswoman also said Iraqi authorities failed in an effort to free the ship when a Dutch court refused to hear a lawsuit they had filed.
The Bahamian-registered Gur Mariner was seized in the Dutch North Sea port of Vlissingen on Thursday after customs received a document identifying the destination of its cargo as Iraq.
According to Dutch Radio, the ship was carrying pipe segments for use in oil drilling operations, as well as machine parts and unidentified chemicals.
In April, British customs seized a consignment of Iraqi-bound pipe segments that were on a dock waiting to be picked up by the Gur Mariner.
The pipes were believed parts for a 120-foot-long artillery piece supposedly being built that would be capable of lobbying shells from Iraqi territory hundreds of miles into Israel.
Alleged components for the so-called supergun, believed to be capable of carrying chemical weapons, have since surfaced in several other European nations.
Josine Mooijen of the Rotterdam prosecutor’s office, which is investigating the case, told The Associated Press the ship’s papers state its cargo ″in rather vague terms.″ She said the cargo was being investigated but refused to provide details.
According to the radio report, the Gur Mariner had picked up cargo in Bremen, West Germany, and Middlesborough, Britain - where the piping was seized in April.
The report said the Gur Mariner was in the Egyptian Suez Canal port of Port Said when the United Nations declared its trade embargo against Iraq. The ship then returned to Rotterdam, said the report.
It added that a U.S. Navy detachment in the Mediterranean Sea had tried to chase the ship because of suspicions it sought to break the U.N. embargo imposed after Iraq’s Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
The case came to light on Thursday, when papers submitted to Dutch customs gave the cargo’s destination as Iraq. Investigators seized the ship under Dutch laws enforcing the U.N. embargo on Iraq.
The prosecutor’s spokeswoman also said the Iraqi government lost a lawsuit Thursday against the Gur Mariner’s owners, Aza Hara Maritime Inc. of Panama, within hours of filing the case at a district court in Middelburg.
Iraq demanded the ship leave Vlissingen within 48 hours without unloading its cargo and sail for a port to be specified later, said Ms. Mooijen.
She said the court refused to hear the suit because the Gur Mariner’s departure would violate the Dutch sanctions law.
″It was a clear-cut, textbook example″ of how that law should be applied, she said.
Talal Pachachi, a spokesman for the Iraqi Embassy in The Hague, said he was unaware of the lawsuit. He refused all comment on the case.
A U.S. arms designer suspected of helping Iraq develop the supergun, Canadian-born Gerald Bull, was assassinated last March in Brussels, Belgium. The case is unsolved though it is believed a hired hitmen carried out the assassination.
Bull also worked on advanced howitzer systems for the U.S. Army. His technology was used by Israel, South Africa and both sides in the Iran-Iraq war.