Russia admitted for the first time on Thursday that a cargo ship forced to turn back from docking in Syria was carrying attack helicopters, several media have reported.
Speaking to Russia Today, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov confirmed that the Russian ship was carrying three Syrian helicopters that had been repaired in Russia. "We are sending no battleships to Syria. We have been saying publicly that we have been implementing contracts under which we have to supply arms to Syria. Those armaments are entirely defensive and they mostly consist of air defense systems, which cannot be used against the population and can only be used to respond to outside aggression," Lavrov told RT.
Foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said the ship had to return after a British insurance company decided to withdraw insurance from this particular ship. It is expected to arrive in Murmansk on Saturday.
"While transiting the North Sea to the Atlantic, the ship-owner was informed that its third-party insurance cover had been withdrawn, and the classification agency in which the ship is located - although it is registered under a Curacao flag - demanded it go into a port for inspection. In order to avoid delay, it was decided to dock in Murmansk where it is expected on Saturday, for re-registration under the Russian flag," EA Worldview quoted Lukashevich as saying.
The ship's owners, the Russian operator Femco, denied earlier this week that it was sending arms to Syria. "Reports about illegal actions of the Alaed's owner are inaccurate," it said in a statement. "The vessel is currently making a regular commercial voyage, in full accordance with international norms and rules."