Monday, August 31, 2009
As many as 10 containers full of North Korean weapons were found on an Australian cargo ship bound for Iran - and the crew say they were horrified to discover they had been living with a highly explosive cargo. Australian officials are investigating the discovery of the arms, which are believed to have included rocket-propelled grenades, on the ANL Australia by customs officers in the United Arab Emirates. Emirates officials seized the cargo because it breached United Nations sanctions which make it illegal to carry munitions to or from North Korea. It is understood that the paperwork carried on the vessel said the containers held machinery parts. In a radio telephone call to the ANL Australia, its captain, Nikola Latkovic, said he and his crew had had no idea the containers contained weapons. Emirates authorities had indicated that they needed to hold six to 10 of the containers. That had happened in July and the ship had been allowed to proceed, he said. The ship is now bound for South Africa. The ANL Australia is based in Melbourne but flies the flag of the Bahamas. The ship, of about 37,400 tonnes, is believed to have picked up the cargo in China. The Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, confirmed yesterday that weapons destined for Iran had been found.
ANL AustraliaMr Albanese said the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was investigating whether Australian laws enforcing UN sanctions had been broken. ''If there have been, that will be referred to the appropriate police authorities,'' he said. ''We take our obligations under the UN Security Council resolutions seriously.'' The sanctions were introduced by the Security Council after Pyongyang's nuclear test in May. They are designed to disrupt North Korea's program to develop nuclear weapons and long-range missiles but also bar the movement of conventional weapons including the rocket-propelled grenades believed to have been found on the ship. The discovery of the weapons is embarrassing for Australia which has condemned North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs and expressed strong support for the arms embargo. This was the first ship seized since the sanctions were imposed. The UAE is a hub for Iranian imports. A Foreign Affairs and Trade spokeswoman said she understood the Emirates authorities had acted in accordance with the sanctions. ''It is important to demonstrate to would-be proliferators and sanctions-violators the vigilance of UN member states in upholding these sanctions.''