THE Rudd government will investigate whether an Australian-registered ship carrying an undeclared cargo of weapons from North Korea, bound for Iran, may have broken Australian laws and violated sanctions.
United Arab Emirates authorities reportedly seized up to 10 container loads of weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades and trigger mechanisms, from the vessel, ANL Australia, when it berthed at Abu Dhabi in mid-July.
The Financial Times quoted UN diplomatic sources at the weekend as saying the weapons had been ordered by an Iranian company with links to the Revolutionary Guards Corps.
Weapons exports from North Korea are strictly prohibited under UN Security Council resolution 1874 and UAE authorities confiscated the containers containing the weapons after the ship berthed, and reported the find to UN authorities.
“Australian laws implementing UN Security Council resolutions apply both in Australia as well as to Australian citizens abroad and corporations anywhere in the world,” a Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman told The Australian last night.
Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said Australia took its UN Security Council resolutions seriously. “We are investigating as to whether there have been any breaches of Australian law. If there have been, that will be referred to the appropriate police authorities,” he said.
The government confirmed a number of containers aboard an “Australian-owned Bahamian-flagged vessel were offloaded in the UAE and inspected by Emirati customs officials”.
“We are aware of reports that the goods found were arms and related materials” the department’s spokeswoman said.
Small arms and light weapons were covered by the extended UN sanctions regime covering North Korea, adopted after Pyongyang’s May nuclear test.
The resolution now covers all arms exports from North Korea rather than just the heavy weapons, nuclear materials and missile technologies that were banned by earlier UN Security Council resolutions.
The ANL Australia had taken on the container cargo from a port in north China as part of its regular shipping run via India to the Arabian Gulf. Senior government sources said the containers were loaded by China Shipping and identified after an intensive monitoring operation by international authorities and the Australian government.
The US and its allies closely monitor all shipments out of North Korea as part of the multinational Proliferation Security Initiative aimed at preventing either nuclear material or missile components from leaving the country.
Customs officials boarded the ANL Australia in Abu Dhabi and discovered the weapons cache, which had been listed on a cargo manifest as spare parts.
Under the terms of UN resolution 1874, governments are required to seize and dispose of materials that are in breach of UNSC resolution 1874 and report the seizure to UN authorities.
The ANL Australia is owned by ANL, once Australia’s national shipping line but now wholly owned by French-based CMA CGM.
CMA CGM, France’s biggest container shipping company, controls 370 ships on more than 200 shipping routes, employing 17,000 employees worldwide.
The ANL Australia did not own the shipping containers and was allowed to sail from Abu Dhabi soon after the containers had been offloaded.
The ANL Australia, previously known as Australian Endeavour, is a 47,000-tonne vessel purchased by ANL in 1991. It is owned and operated from Melbourne and is wholly foreign-crewed.
Chris Schultz, general manager of business development at ANL Australia, said to the Sunday Telegraph he was unaware an ANL vessel was involved in any seizure. “This is the first I have heard of it,” Mr Schultz said. He admitted the ship was the property of ANL but refused any further comment.
Shipping Australia (SAL) is surprised at the media storm over the discovery of arms in containers aboard an Australian-owned ship in July. SAL chief executive Llew Russell said it would be surprising if there was any evidence of a link to Australia and Australians on which to base an investigation, other than the ship’s name. “On the information we have, [it has] not been established,” Mr Russell said to Lloyd’s List DCN.