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Syria-bound Russian cargo ship turning back, British diplomat says

By the CNN Wire Staff
June 20, 2012 -- Updated 0045 GMT (0845 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • UK Foreign Secretary William Hague says the ship appears to be headed toward Russia
  • He said Britain is discouraging anyone from supplying arms to Syria
  • Chemical weapons in Syria are a concern, Hague said
  • He says focus is on peaceful transition, but "we cannot take any options off the table"

(CNN) -- A Russian cargo ship reported to be carrying arms to Syria is turning back, Britain's top diplomat said Tuesday.

"I am pleased that the ship that was reported to be carrying arms to Syria has turned back apparently towards Russia," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told the House of Commons.

U.S. officials have said that the Russian operator Femco's cargo ship, MV Alaed, was headed for Syria with attack helicopters and munitions for the al-Assad regime from the port of Kaliningrad. The vessel had been off the north coast of Scotland, according to ship tracking data.

Hague commented on a ship during questions about the fighting in Syria during a wide-ranging House of Commons question-and-answer session about foreign policy. He didn't name the vessel.

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He mentioned the status of the ship when asked whether "every peaceful diplomatic effort is being made to prevent the Syrian government from getting its hands on weapons that can be used against its own people."

Hague also cited a European Union arms embargo on Syria.

"We discourage anyone else from supplying arms to Syria," he said. "We have had discussions with Russia about that specifically."

He answered a question about how to approach the issue of chemical weaponry in Syria. Hague said that such weapons are a concern and that he's "confident that the international community" would pursue any action to deal with the issue, but he wouldn't elaborate.

The Standard Club, a UK marine insurer, said it has stopped coverage for the Alaed. The withdrawal of coverage applies to the whole Femco fleet of eight vessels entered with the company, Standard Club officials said.

Syria exposes cool spots in U.S.-Russia ties

"We were made aware of the allegations that the Alaed was carrying munitions destined for Syria and have already informed the ship owner that their insurance cover ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage," the company told CNN on Monday.

Femco declined to comment to CNN on Tuesday.

The Alaed was proceeding southwest at a speed of 12 knots and was some 40 miles off the Scottish port of Thurso at 9 a.m. ET Monday. The data showed that it left Kaliningrad 10 days ago with a final destination of Vladivostok on July 24.

On Friday, U.S. officials said they were tracking a Russian military cargo ship, the Nikolay Filchenov, also thought to be bound for Syria. U.S. intelligence believes the Russians are sending the ship to help fortify a Russian naval base in Syria as the situation in the country continues to spiral out of control, Pentagon officials told CNN on Friday.

RIA Novosti, Russia's state-run news agency, denied the report Monday, citing a source in the Black Sea Fleet who said the Nikolay Filchenov remained docked at its base in Sevastopol.

Syria has been engulfed in widespread unrest for more than 15 months. Thousands have died after a crackdown by the government of President Bashar al-Assad on peaceful protesters stoked an anti-regime uprising.

Hague said that efforts to deal with the "dire" situation have been focused on a "peaceful political transition in Syria and to a cessation of violence."

"At no stage have we been advocating a military intervention, but we do recognize the situation is so grave and deteriorating so quickly and such crimes are being committed, we cannot take any options off the table at the moment."

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