April 21, 2008
Unions move to block Zimbabwe arms shipment
Unions around Africa are mobilizing to prevent an arms shipment reaching the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe. But Lloyd's Marine Intelligence Unit is warning that the weapons could be transferred at sea to another ship.
The arms are allegedly being carried aboard the COSCO-owned general cargo ship An Yue Jiang. The 149 m, 11,115 gt vessel is capable of just over 15 knots and has the ability to discharge its own cargo via six onboard cranes, which it can do at a port, or if conditions permit, at sea.
The An Yue Jian left its anchorage outside the South African port of Durban on Friday after a court granted church activists a temporary order preventing the weapons from being shipped to Zimbabwe overland through South Africa.
According to the ITF union federation the ship later steered away from possible landfall in Maputo (where the local ITF-affiliated union was also on alert). ITF says the ship has switched off its transponder (which broadcasts its exact location), but the ITF believes it could try to make for Luanda, Angola next, and may be running low on fuel. The ITF is alerting its member unions in the area and seeking an assurance from the Angolan government that it will not attempt to assist the transshipment of the load to Zimbabwe. The ITF believes that the vessel should dock at the nearest suitable port, irrespective of whether or not its cargo is impounded, take on fuel and return to China.
ITF General Secretary David Cockroft said: "The ITF, our member trade unions and the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) are doing everything we consider necessary to stop this dangerous and destabilizing shipment reaching Zimbabwe. We will continue to do so, we hope with the support of the regions' governments, but without them if necessary."
"This materiel must not reach Zimbabwe, a country whose people are crying out for food and freedom, not bullets."
He concluded: "As well as mobilizing our colleagues in the region we are reiterating our message to Cosco, the Chinese Government, the officially approved All China Federation of Trade Unions, and the Chinese Seamen's and Construction Workers' union-- which has been showing indications of growing independence from the national authorities--that they should think of the safety of the ship's crew. The way to do that is to dock, whether or not the arms are seized, assure the vessel is seaworthy, and then return it to its home port."
Lloyd's MIU (www.lloydsmiu.com) has been tracking the vessel via satellites and agents covering all African ports, with its focus on likely ports of call for discharging its cargo, potential re-fuelling stops (given it did not re-fuel at Durban), and all vessels in that coastal area that it could transfer its cargo onto while it is at sea, in particular, two vessels belonging to the same owner. Lloyd's MIU says the COSCO vessel Feng Shun Shan arrived at Durban on April 20 and is currently in port, while the COSCO vessel Le Chang is due to arrive at Richards Bay at 2000, UTC, April 21.
Lloyd's MIU says "an increasingly likely scenario" is a ship-to-ship transfer of the armsl cargo "over the horizon" while the vessel is at sea. It is also possible for the ship to be refuelled at sea, which would allow it to continue further afield and then continue the shipment via land.
The governments of both Mozambique and Tanzania have refused to allow the ship to offload its cargo in their ports, according to a South African newspaper report. And although the ITF believes the ship may be headed for Angola, Lloyd's MIU now reports port authorities in Luanda as saying today that it has neither sought nor received authorization to dock in Angola.
"This ship has not sought request to enter Angolan territorial waters and it's not authorised to enter Angolan ports," said Filomeno Mendonca, director of the Institute of Angolan Ports.
"We have warned our ports that this ship does not have authorization to enter in Angola and therefore will not be assisted in Angola," he added.