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1990: Customs seize 'supergun'

VIDEO : Report on `supergun' seizure

Customs officers in Middlesbrough say they have seized what they believe to be the barrel of a massive gun on a ship bound for Iraq.

Exports of parts for a weapon to Iraq would contravene British restrictions on arms sales to President Saddam Hussein's state.

Eight pipes were found in crates during a search of the ship at the Teesport Docks.

The length of the barrel is said to measure 40 metres (130 feet) when assembled.

This would make it by far the largest gun in the world with a range of approximately 600 miles (965 kilometres).

The ship where the pipes were found, the Gur Mariner, is being chartered by the Iraqi Maritime Organisation.

It arrived at Teesport Docks from Rotterdam last Wednesday.

Before that the Bahamas-registered vessel had called at the port of Hamburg in Germany.

The discovery has led to investigations at the Walter Somers company in Halesowen in the west Midlands where the parts are said to have been designed and Forgemasters engineering firm in Sheffield.

A spokesman for Forgemasters said they had been told the parts were for a petrochemicals plant.

Increased vigilance

Directors at both Walter Somers and Forgemasters have been questioned but there are no reports of arrests.

The seizure of parts from the Gur Mariner comes at a time of increased vigilance on Iraq-bound vessels and flights.

The discovery of the pipes followed a three-day operation involving officers from Customs and Excise and the Ministry of Defence.

Last month investigations in the UK and USA led to parts for nuclear weapons en route to Iraq being seized at Heathrow Airport in London.

Britain's relations with Iraq are already poor following the recent execution in Baghdad of London-based journalist Farzad Bazoft.

This latest incident looks set to strain them even further.

In Context
A spate of arrests followed around Europe as other suspected parts of the "supergun" were discovered.

Investigations revealed the gun was part of "Project Babylon", the brainchild of Canadian Dr Gerald Bull, who was assassinated shortly before the parts were discovered.

In April 1990 two men - a scientist and a director of the company Walter Somers company - were charged in connection with the "supergun".

However, charges against them were withdrawn suddenly and without explanation in November.

In 1991 after Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War United Nations weapons inspectors working in the country destroyed two "superguns".

A 1992 report on the affair concluded the government had known more about Project Babylon than it had admitted.

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