UK
19/06/2012 07:54 BST | Updated 19/06/2012 11:57 BST

MV Alaed: Syria-Bound Russian Ship 'Carrying Weapons' Stopped By British Insurer Off Scottish Coast

A Russian ship believed to be carrying military equipment to Syria has been halted off the coast of Scotland after its insurance holder cancelled its policy.

The MV Alaed, owned by the Russian shipping company Femco, is reportedly carrying Mi25 helicopters, known as "flying tanks" to Syria.

The ship was said to be heading to the port of Tartus, the country's main naval base.

Femco holds marine insurance with British firm The Standard Club, which said it had removed all cover from ships owned by the Russian company, effectively stranding the Alaed.

The Daily Telegraph said that the British government informed the company that "providing insurance to the shipment was likely to be a breach of European Union sanctions against the Syrian regime," and asked that it was removed.

However, a spokesperson from The Standard Club told the Huffington Post UK the club itself decided to cancel the cover for Femco's eight ships that it insures.

As a mutual insurer, the club is owned by its members, who decided that the policies on the ships should be cancelled.

"We were made aware of the allegations that the Alaed was carrying munitions destined for Syria," the club said in a statement. "We have already informed the ship owner that their insurance cover ceased automatically in view of the nature of the voyage."

In response to the situation, the Foreign Office released a statement confirming that they were "aware of a ship carrying a consignment of refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters heading to Syria."

"The foreign secretary," it continued, "made clear to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov when they met on 14 June that all defence shipments to Syria must stop."

"We are working closely with international partners to ensure that we are doing all we can to stop the Syrian regime's ability to slaughter civilians being reinforced through assistance from other countries."

The EU has placed a ban on directly selling supplies to Syria, including the exportation of arms. Providing a service such as insurance to a company those contravening EU rules also falls under the ban.

Former UN Secretary-General and envoy overseeing the peacekeeping effort Kofi Annan has condemned the Syrian military but is yet to stop the Russian government from supplying arms to Syria.

In a blog for the Huffington Post UK this week, Lavrov denied that Russia was illegitimately supplying Syria with arms.

"We firmly oppose the use of violence in the... Arab States, especially against civilians," he wrote.

"We have stated many times that Russia is not a defender of the current regime in Damascus and has no political, economic or other reasons for becoming one."

Lavrov, and indeed Russia, believe that the best course of action, though, is not to intervene in the conflict.

"An immediate ousting of Bashar al-Assad, contrary to the aspirations of a considerable segment of Syrian society that still relies on this regime for its security and well-being, would mean plunging Syria into a protracted and bloody civil war," he wrote.