Call to halt 'Ship of Shame' carrying American weapons to Egypt

A ship with a cargo of weapons and explosives en route from the USA to Egypt, must not be allowed to offload because of a substantial risk the weapons will be used by Egyptian security forces to commit human rights violations, Amnesty International said today.

The organisation has tracked the Dutch-flagged ship, “MV Schippersgracht”, for the past two months. It is currently in the Mediterranean Sea and due to arrive in Egypt early next week.

The vessel had previously docked at the US Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point (MOTSU), Southport in North Carolina, USA on 24 February 2012. MOTSU is the largest ammunition port in the US and is the Department of Defense’s key Atlantic Coast ammunition shipping point.

On 3 March the ship left Sunny Point, a military-only port, carrying a class of dangerous goods that includes cartridges for weapons, fuses, and other ammunition. The ship has a cargo capacity of 21,000 tons and 1,100 twenty-foot containers. The captain reported the ship’s next destination as Port Said in Egypt. 

Amnesty International’s head of arms control, Brian Wood, said:

“This ‘Ship of Shame’ should not be allowed to unload its dangerous cargo in Egypt.

 “There is a clear pattern that weapons from previous ships have recently been used to commit serious human rights violations by the Egyptian security forces, and yet the US is recklessly sending a constant flow of arms to Egypt.”

As recently as last month, Egypt’s Central Security Forces (riot police) used excessive force, including shotguns and live ammunition, to disperse protests, killing at least 16 people and injuring hundreds of others. Over the past year, the Egyptian security forces including the military have repeatedly used excessive force, including lethal force, against protestors. More than one hundred people were killed and thousands more injured over the last five months by security forces.

The Dutch company Spliethoff's Bevrachtingskantoor BV, a contractor for the US Military Sealift Command that manages the “Schippersgracht”, gave no comment on the latest shipment when contacted by Amnesty International.

Between 11 December 2011 and 5 February 2012, the Egyptian Procurement Office (EPO) of the Armament Authority, Ministry of Defense shipped a total of 349 tons of military and dual-use equipment with a value of at least USD$35 million supplied on seven US-flagged cargo ships, which are managed by American President Lines Maritime Ltd. Equipment on these seven cargo ships included military spare parts and components for electronic equipment, tactical and support vehicles, tanker vehicles, armoured vehicles and tanks, spare parts for AH-64 Apache, H-3 and SH-2G(E) helicopters.

Amnesty said the Egyptian security forces’ use of ammunition is a clear example of the urgent need for the establishment and implementation of an effective global Arms Treaty, which enters the final stage of crucial negotiations this July.

Ahead of his state visit to America Prime Minister David Cameron was urged by Amnesty to raise the urgent need for a secure and comprehensive Arms treaty to stem the flow of weapons used to commit human rights violations.

Amnesty International is calling for ammunitions to be included among the conventional arms to be regulated by the treaty, a move the US currently opposes.

Brian Wood concluded:

“The violent repression of protestors at the hands of Egyptian security forces is sadly one of many examples as to why the world needs a bullet-proof Arms Treaty. As the world’s largest arms exporter, the US in particular needs to match its rhetoric on human rights with genuine action, something it has so far failed to do.”

Amnesty, with Transarms and the International Peace and Information Service, has documented a series of ‘Ships of Shame’ transfers of arms from the world’s major irresponsible arms suppliers, including China, Russia, and the USA, to countries where there is a substantial risk that weapons will be used to commit serious human rights violations.

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