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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 June, 2003, 17:51 GMT 18:51 UK
Crew held over explosives cargo
Captain Anatoly Baltak under arrest
The ship's captain said he had only followed owners' orders
Greek authorities have ordered the crew of a seized ship loaded with nearly 700 tonnes of explosives to remain in custody pending further investigation.

The decision was taken after the crew of the Baltic Sky - five Ukrainians and two Azeris - appeared for the first time in front of the investigative magistrate in the western town of Messolongi.

The crew had already been charged with possession and transport of explosives and also with failing to notify Greece 24 hours in advance that they were transporting explosives into Greek waters.

The ship set sail from Tunisia carrying 680 tonnes of explosives, mainly TNT, and 8,000 detonators, when it was stormed by special forces off Greece's western coast on Sunday.

Baltic Sky
The ship had been on a long odyssey around the Mediterranean

On Tuesday, Sudan criticised Greece for impounding the ship, saying the explosives - ammonium nitrates - were ordered by a Sudanese company and were for civilian use.

The head of a Sudanese chemical firm told the BBC the shipment was destined for his business - the Integrated Chemicals and Development Company.

Earlier, Greek officials said documents on board the ship linked it to the company but their initial inquiries indicated the firm did not exist.

But Isam Bakry al-Khalifa, the executive manager of the Sudanese firm, said every box on the ship had a tag showing the name, address and telephone numbers of the company in Khartoum.

Captain's account

On Wednesday, the captain of the ship, Anatoly Baltak, was reported as telling the Greek court that he had acted on orders of the ship's owners and thought he was acting legally.

THE BALTIC SKY'S COURSE
13 May: Left Tunisian port of Gabes for Port Sudan
21 May: Passes through Dardanelles Straits
2 June: Docks in Istanbul
5 June: Leaves for Suez
6-22 June: Zigzags around the Aegean Sea
22 June: Boarded by Greek forces in southern Ionian Sea

Mr Baltak also later told reporters that he took command of the ship in Istanbul on 3 June, and had documents for the explosives loaded in Tunisia's port of Gabes on 13 May.

He said he left Istanbul for Greece after receiving orders from his owners.

On Tuesday, a Tunisian company filed a complaint against the owners of the Baltic Sky saying they had a contract with them to deliver the explosives to Khartoum.

The Societe Tunisienne d'Explosifs et Munitions - who said the transaction was approved by Sudanese authorities - also accused the Baltic Sky of diverting the cargo from its original route.

Also on Tuesday, Tunisian Interior Minister Hedi M'Henni said later that the ship owners demanded an additional payment of $10,000 and threatened to confiscate the ship.

'Atomic bomb'

Shipping documents show that the Baltic Sky was sailing under the Comoros flag, but several maritime sources - including authoritative Lloyd's list - have linked the ship with an Ireland-based company.

The ship's location when it was stopped suggested it was not heading towards Khartoum.

It had apparently been sailing around the Mediterranean for six weeks before being impounded.

It was boarded in the Ionian Sea following a tip-off and then forced into the tiny Greek port of Platiyali, 235 kilometres (145 miles) north-west of Athens.

Greek Shipping Minister George Anomeritis described the ship as a floating "atomic bomb".

The discovery of the cargo comes amid heightened terror alerts in East Africa and elsewhere.

Anti-terrorist forces and army bomb experts have begun examining the cargo.


SEE ALSO:
Storm surrounds ship's cargo
24 Jun 03  |  Europe
Greece seizes explosives ship
23 Jun 03  |  Europe


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