Lebanon News

Saqr orders arrest of crew on ship carrying weapons to Syria

Lutfallah II," carrying Syria-bound weapons. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr ordered over the weekend that the 11-member crew of the ship “Lutfallah II,” which was carrying weapons allegedly bound for Syria, be held for questioning.

Sources told The Daily Star that the Sierra Leonean-flagged ship was carrying light, medium and heavy weaponry.

Saqr requested that the military police question the suspects and determine at which port the arms were loaded and to whom they were to be delivered.

In a statement released Saturday, the Lebanese Army confirmed weapons on board the ship were confiscated.

“The Army intercepted Friday off the northern coast the Sierra Leonean-flagged commercial vessel ‘Lutfallah II.’ The Army and relevant authorities inspected the vessel and confiscated three containers with a large quantity of assorted arms as well as heavy, medium and light ammunition.”

The statement added that the 11 detained crew members were of various Arab and foreign nationalities.

Al-Manar TV reported Sunday that the crew was made up of eight Syrians, two Egyptians and one Indian.

Tripoli MP Samir Jisr from former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future bloc said Sunday he was waiting for the results of the investigations before making conclusions.

“We are waiting for investigations and we don’t want to jump the gun. People of Tripoli are neither involved in [the smuggling of] weapons nor in other events taking place in Syria,” he told reporters after receiving a Palestinian delegation at his office in Tripoli.

President Michel Sleiman praised the Army Saturday for seizing the ship, touting the measure as part of efforts to preserve civil peace and prevent the country from becoming an arena of conflict for others.

According to his press office, Sleiman also stressed the importance of the Army and security forces remaining alert to ward off risks that could incite strife.

The Tripoli-bound “Lutfallah II” was impounded by Lebanese authorities and transported to the Lebanese Navy base in Beirut port Saturday, after having been intercepted in Lebanese waters Friday and forced to dock at Salaata port in the north of the country.

The owner of the ship is Syrian Mohammad Khafaja and its Lebanese shipping agent is Ahmad Bernard.

Milos Struger, director of political and civil affairs at the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, said that the force had dealt with the ship in line with its mandate stipulated in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the summer 2006 war. He responding to what he described as inaccurate media reports on the role of UNIFIL’s maritime force.

Struger said in a statement that UNIFIL was tasked with tracking maritime traffic and contacting all ships in its field of maritime operations.

He explained that UNIFIL refers to the Lebanese Navy any ship suspected of carrying illegitimate arms and has no authority to get aboard or inspect any vessel. Struger added that UNIFIL behaved as such regarding “Lutfallah II.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 30, 2012, on page 3.




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