UK insurer strands Russian 'helicopter' shipment to Syria

Mi-24 helicopter - Russia

Insurer withdraws cover from cargo ship allegedly taking helicopters to Assad

LAST UPDATED AT 10:11 ON Tue 19 Jun 2012

A RUSSIAN cargo ship thought by US intelligence services to be carrying 'flying tank' helicopters to the Assad regime in Syria may have to turn back to its home port after its insurance was cancelled.

The MV Alaed, currently off the northwest coast of Scotland, was covered by Standard Club but the UK-based marine specialist told The Daily Telegraph it had now withdrawn insurance from Femco, the ship's owners.

Standard Club said the cover "ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage". It had been contacted by the UK security services and warned that providing insurance to a ship taking arms to Syria would leave it in breach of EU sanctions.

The Sunday Telegraph reported at the weekend that the US had asked the British government to intervene when it discovered that the Alaed was insured by a UK firm.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed last week that she believed Russia was supplying helicopters to Syria. It later emerged that the aircraft were Syria-owned and were returning from a trip to be serviced in Russia, where they were originally made.

Helicopters have been used to devastating effect by the Assad regime against its own citizens in an attempt to suppress the long-running civil unrest in Syria.

The Alaed has been said by some media to be loaded with part of a consignment of 36 Mi-25 helicopters ordered by Syria at the end of the Soviet era. However, Russia's state-owned broadcaster RT, previously known as Russia Today, says that there is no such thing as an Mi-25.

RT claims this 'mistake' suggests that a single source is behind the western media reports of the presence of helicopters onboard the Alaed – by implication, the US intelligence services.

However, the Western media is not reporting with one voice on the identity of the helicopters. The Week's defence correspondent, Robert Fox, yesterday reported that the aircraft were of the Mi-24 series of helicopters used by the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

Whether it is carrying helicopters or not, and whatever they're called, the Alaed is now thought to have no option but to return to its port of origin. Without insurance, it will find it impossible to dock anywhere else.

It is currently in the seas off the Outer Hebrides after changing course abruptly to skirt around the north of the UK when it was hailed by Dutch customs officers as it headed past Holland towards the English Channel.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin used their first meeting since the latter returned to the Russian presidency to issue a joint statement calling for an end to violence in Syria – but without any indication of how peace should be achieved.

The two leaders met at the G20 summit in Mexico yesterday and, according to aides, spent more time discussing Syria than any other topic, says Reuters. The Assad regime is a long-time ally and arms customer of Russia.

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.

Read next

Robert Fox
FOX: will Alawites turn on 'crooked' Assad?