Owners of Hezbollah-bound arms ship: We didn't know about weapons
Ship, Francop, planned to make its way from Egypt to Syria via Cyprus and Lebanon. But once at sea, plans go awry. Team of sailors, who were surprised to meet Israeli commando force, claim they were unaware of contents of container. Cyprus ship company says to Ynet: We only transport, are not legally allowed to check cargo'
Just before midnight, the signal was given and the Four Species Operation was underway after continual intelligence surveillance. An Israeli Navy commando force, that reached the deep sea in small boats, boarded the Francop, a cargo ship owned by charter company UFS traveling under an Antiguan flag.
The crew of sailors did not resist the commando and said that they did not know what was in the large container on board. The commando force opened the container and revealed missiles, rockets, shells, grenades, and small arms.
The defense establishment estimates that the weapons were on their way from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The ship was slated to anchor in Beirut, and from there to be handled by Nasrallah's operatives. However, near Cyprus, about 180 km (about 110 miles) off the coast of Israel, the plans went awry. The Francop was taken to Ashdod Port in the midst of another thwarted smuggling affair.
The ship left Damietta Port in Egypt for Limassol, Cyprus. The ship was slated to anchor Thursday in Beirut Port and continue on to Latakia Port in Syria, where it would dock over the weekend.
The Francop was built in 2003 and is 137 meters (450 feet) in length, and 22 meters (72 feet) in width. The ship enters and exits these ports frequently. Just last month, the ship anchored for a total of 18 hours in Cyprus after arriving from Beirut, where the crew stayed for five hours. In the summer months, the ship anchored in a number of Greek ports.
UFS, the owners of the ship, is a Cypriot freight delivery company that operates in dozens of ports in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
Speaking on behalf of UFS, Paniatois Emirs said to Ynet: "We rented the chip, but it is not under our ownership. We are only carriers. We did not know there were weapons on the ship. We knew that we were delivering containers, but we are not legally permitted to check what is inside them. This is the responsibility of the customs authorities at the ports where we anchor. We do not know what happened on the ship. We are waiting, just like you are, for answers."
He added, "This is the first time something like this happens to us. I hope this will not damage the relations between Cyprus and Israel, because it is just business for us."
Daniel Edelson contributed to this report