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Fly the flag: Russian ship with Syrian bound choppers returns home

Fly the flag: Russian ship with Syrian bound choppers returns home
The Russian “Alaed” cargo ship transporting MI25 helicopters bound for Syria has entered Russia’s Arctic port of Murmansk. The vessel is to be re-flagged and dispatched to Russia’s Far Eastern port of Vladivostok.

­The Kola Gulf control official confirmed the entrance on Sunday morning.

The Alaed, which has been forced to turn back to home shores as the UK-based insurer withdrew the vessel’s cover, is expected to be re-flagged in Murmansk to sail under the Russian tricolor.  

It is currently sailing under the flag of the Caribbean island of Curacao. The change will help avert the vessel's interception and seizure in neutral waters, which is a potential hazard when sailing under the flag of a third country, explained Col. Gen.  Leonid Ivashov, the president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems and a former chief of the Defense Ministry's international military cooperation directorate.

Once re-flagged, the vessel will set off again on its voyage to the Russian Far Eastern port of Vladivostok, the ship's managers FEMCO says.  

The company denounced a decision made by the UK marine insurer the Standard Club to withdraw its coverage without “any documentary confirmation of any arms bound for Syria onboard.” “The insurance was revoked upon recommendation of UK intelligence,” reads a statement posted on the company’s website.

“FEMCO incorporated expresses deep regret that its commercial activity and scrupulous implementation of contractual commitments to its clients and partners has become subject to political speculations, manipulations of intelligence services and fraud, aided by a game of factual distortion being carried out by a number of journalists,” the statement further says.  

Earlier some experts suggested the vessel would be sent back to the Syrian port of Tartus with an escort of Russian Naval warships or civilian boats.

 "The ship might run into some kind of unpleasant situation during its solitary voyage, and that might be blamed on some pirates or other force of nature, and so Alaed needs both witnesses and, if necessary, operational help," Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted one military diplomat as saying.

The Russian cargo ship was stopped near Scotland this past Monday after the US told the UK marine insurer the Standard Club Washington suspected the vessel was heading to Syria, carrying MI25 helicopters known as "flying tanks".

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday confirmed the nature of the cargo, saying the ship carried three old helicopters that had been repaired by Russia for Syria under a 2008 agreement. But he said they can only be used to repulse external aggression, not crack down on civilian protesters.

”Allegations that Russians were delivering the helicopters which could be used against peaceful demonstrators are a completely false assumption aimed at fanning fear and putting Russia in a bad light,” said Sergey Lavrov in an interview with Radio Ekho Moskvy on June 21.