Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Shipping Companies In Front Line of Gulf Cold War

Arms Smuggling Warning as War of Words Intensifies
Shipping News Feature

MIDDLE EAST – Though many in the West have hailed the wave of discontent that has swept the Arab world, the ‘Arab Spring’, as most likely a positive thing for the future of the Middle-East and the peoples of the region for the prospective benefits that greater degrees of democratic freedom should engender, for the international shipping industry the situation has thrown up an increased threat from the age old problem of illicit arm smuggling.

As established regimes fold or come under pressure to reform various parties with interests in the area are moving to exploit the confusion to gain advantage for their own political agendas.

A spate of seizures of what appear to be attempts at illegal arms transfers by elements of the Iranian government - with the MV Victoria, chartered by CMA-CGM and operated by Peter Doehle Schiffahrts KG of Hamburg, being held in March after having been found to be carrying tons of arms, including anti-ship missiles - has seen Israel loudly decrying the fact that Iran seems to be aiming to use the confusion of the Arab Spring to supply its allies in Hezbollah and Hamas.

This was combined with an incident in the same month that saw Turkish authorities force the landing of Iranian transport aircraft in their airspace and the seizure of cargoes of weapons.

In addition, Iran seems to be looking to apply pressure on its Arab neighbours across the Gulf in an attempt to expand its influence, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain all recently accusing Tehran of trying to arm Shiite rebels in those countries.

This latter situation has recently been escalated by both Saudi Arabia’s involvement in suppressing anti-government protesters in Bahrain - which it claims is actively sponsored by Iran - and by an announcement in April by a senior Iranian official.

In a statement Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi, a military adviser to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, said that: ‘The presence and attitude of Saudi Arabia sets an incorrect precedent for similar events in the future and Saudi Arabia should consider this fact that one day the very same event may recur in Saudi Arabia itself and Saudi Arabia may come under invasion for the very same excuse.’

In response the GCC countries - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain – are all looking at increased military expenditure, with current discussions between Saudi Arabia and the US on a new arms deal looking at a figure of $67 billion worth of aircraft and missile systems.

The coastguards of the Arab Gulf states are also intensifying their scrutiny of ships passing into and through their areas of responsibility, with that of the UAE yesterday announcing a tightening of regulations.

The politics of the situation may seem to be of little interest for those in the logistics industries but unfortunately the nature of modern container shipping means that for any unsuspecting owners and crews the first they realise that the cargoes they are carrying may not be what is listed on their manifests is when security forces swoop down upon them.

(pics: Anti-ship missiles seized from the MV Victoria. © IDF)