Monday, April 23, 2018

Russian ship heading to Syria turns back after losing insurance

LONDON — A Russian-operated ship said to be carrying military helicopters to Syria appears to have turned back after its British insurer removed coverage for the vessel, officials said Tuesday.

Britain's Foreign Office said the ship, the MV Alaed, changed after news reports emerged about its alleged contents. Earlier, the Foreign Office confirmed it was aware that a ship carrying a consignment of refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters was heading to Syria.

The ship has "turned back now apparently toward Russia," Foreign Secretary William Hague told Parliament.

The news came after the British-based insurer Standard Club said it had removed insurance coverage for the ship owner when it became aware the vessel was carrying munitions, a clear breach of its rules.

Russian officials have not commented on the ship or its reported contents. The vessel's Russian operator, Femco, declined to comment Tuesday.

Britain has joined the United States and other countries in pressing Russia to halt arms shipments to Syria. Opposition groups say more than 14,000 people have been killed since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with mostly peaceful protests. A ferocious government crackdown, however, led many to take up arms and the conflict is now an armed insurgency.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday at the Group of 20 summit in Mexico that not all Syrians want a new leader and that all parties need to negotiate an end to the bloodshed. On Monday, President Barack Obama urged Putin to help ease President Bashar Assad out of power.

Russia has shielded the regime, its last ally in the Middle East, from international sanctions over its violent crackdown.

Separately, Syria said it was ready to act on a U.N. call to evacuate civilians trapped in the rebellious central city of Homs but blamed rebels for obstructing the efforts.

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