Finnish authorities have launched an investigation into an alleged attempt to smuggle arms to Syria from Russia through a port in Helsinki, Finland’s capital, after intercepting a ship carrying spare parts for tanks last month.
During an inspection of the M/S Finnsun at Vousaari port, custom officials discovered tank parts in a container on board, which was en route to Syria in breach of EU sanctions, Finish customs said in a statement.
Finnlines, a Finnish shipping company, confirmed the cargo in question was loaded in the Russian city of St Petersburg on December 20.
“Finnlines immediately requested the Finnish customs to restrain the cargo,” it said in a statement.
The captain of the ship and Finnlines staff have been questioned, the customs office said, adding that it was also asking for help from other countries.
Russia is one of Syria’s main arms supplier and has long been an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, sending him at least $1b worth of weapons in 2011.
Russian ships have been stopped repeatedly in international waters for trying to transport weapons to Syria in breach of an EU arms embargo imposed during the two-year-long Syrian conflict.
Vyacheslav Davidenko, spokesman for Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state arms exporter, said he had no information about the delivery of any tank spare parts from his company to Syria, adding that they may have been confused with other arms parts.
“Sending spare parts through Finland is not exactly logical. Besides it’s hard to say immediately what kind of spare parts they may be. They may look like tank spare parts, but in reality be intended for a different system,” he said by telephone.
The sale and delivery of spare parts from Russia’s sprawling defence industry, are often done by individual companies without the participation of the state arms exporter, making deliveries harder to track.
The director of Rosoboronexport Anatoly Isaikin said earlier this week that its deliveries to Syria were mostly air defence systems and that none of the weapons it was delivering could be used in Syria’s civil war.
Moscow has blocked three UN Security Council resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Assad. It says his departure must not be a precondition for any negotiated settlement.