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Explosives ship seized by greece

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Mideast - AFP

Explosives ship seized by Greece heading for Sudan
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ATHENS (AFP) - A ship seized in Greek waters packed with explosives equivalent to an "atomic bomb" was on its way to Sudan with the shipment addressed to a non-existant chemicals firm, a senior Greek minister said.

The ship was carrying 680 tonnes of explosives, mainly TNT -- the "equivalent of an atomic bomb" -- and 8,000 detonators, Greek Merchant Marines Minister Georges Anomeritis said during a press conference.

"We are sure that the boat was loaded in Tunisia and was heading for Khartoum," the minister added.

Anomeritis refused to speculate about any possible terrorist links saying: "The probe is still underway.

"As no-one knows where the explosives were going, no-one knows what they were going to be used for," he insisted.

Acting on a tip-off received five days ago, special forces seized the Baltic Sky, flying the flag of the Comoros Islands in Africa, while it was sailing through the Ionian Sea off the west coast of Greece.

One ministry official described the vessel intercepted on Sunday as "packed to breaking point".

"This is the biggest quantity of explosives ever seized in the world from a boat sailing illegally," the merchant marine ministry said in a statement.

Ship documents showed the explosives were destined for a company called Integrated Chemicals and Development. The only address listed was a post office box in Sudan's capital Khartoum, Anomeritis said.

The investigation so far showed that no such company existed, he added.

Sudan is still on a US list of nations supporting terrorism despite recognition last month by the US state department that the country was making progress in fighting terrorists.

The authenticity of the Baltic Sky's shipping documents were still being checked but they corresponded exactly to the cargo, the Greek ministry said.

According to the ship's log, the vessel yo-yoed around the Mediterranean Sea during May and June.

The ship left Albania on April 27 and docked in the Tunisian port of Gabes on May 12. It then passed through Turkey's Dardanelles Strait to arrive in the Turkish city of Istanbul on May 22. It travelled through the strait once again on June 2.

"It appears that at some stage someone realised that they were carrying a cargo that wasn't destined for anyone and maybe they were trying to get rid of it somewhere," the ministry said in a bid a explain the ship's erratic voyage.

The crew should have nevertheless informed Greek authorities that it was carrying dangerous materials 24 hours before it entered the country's territorial waters.

The ship's crew, five Ukrainians and two Azerbaijanis, was arrested and charged with failing to inform Greek authorities of the dangerous cargo.

The Ukrainian captain, 64-year-old Anatoly Baltak, also failed to inform the coastguard of the volatile shipment when his vessel was boarded.

The ship belonged to a company named Alpha Shipping ANC registered in the Marshall Islands in the south Pacific.

Special Greek patrol boats escorted it into a small port at Platy-Yali after it was seized.

Greek coastguards have been on a heightened state of alert for months. Greece has held the rotating EU presidency since January and Athens is due to host the 2004 Olympic Games (news - web sites).

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