/ 19 April 2008

Ship with arms for Zim leaves Durban after court ruling

A ship that was carrying weapons and ammunition destined for Zimbabwe lifted anchor and sailed from Durban less than an hour after the Durban High Court ordered that its controversial cargo cannot be transported across South Africa to that country.

The An Yue Jiang lifted anchor between 6pm and 7pm on Friday evening.

Several sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the ship had set sail from the outer anchorage off the port of Durban, where it had been at anchor since at least Monday.

The ship’s master, who identified himself as Captain Sunaijun, told the South African Press Association by radio phone on Friday night: ”I am awaiting orders from my owner.”

He refused to answer any other questions.

It was not immediately known where the vessel, owned by Chinese state-owned company Cosco Group, was headed.

Nicole Fritz, the director of the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC), said she had been informed that as the sheriff of the Durban High Court approached the vessel, it lifted anchor and began sailing.

She said that if the ship went to Mozambique, the SALC would seek similar legal action as implemented in Durban.

Durban Port Captain Ricky Bhikraj declined to comment.

Transnet spokesperson John Dludlu said: ”We’re not commenting on the vessel.”

Attempts to contact Wang Kun Hui, the managing director for Cosren, the shipping agents for the ship in South Africa, were unsuccessful.

Shortly before 6pm the Durban High Court ordered that the shipment of arms may be offloaded in Durban’s harbour but that the controversial cargo cannot be transported across South Africa to Zimbabwe.

The order followed an application by Anglican Bishop Rubin Phillip and Patrick Kearney, a former activist and executive of the Diakonia Council of Churches.

The papers were lodged with Judge Kate Pillay in chambers shortly before 5pm.

About an hour later their attorney, Ranjit Purshotam, emerged from the court and announced that Pillay had ruled in favour of the application — effectively barring the movement of the arms to Zimbabwe.

Reacting to the ship’s sailing, Phillip said: ”One wonders what really is going on. What’s really in that shipment? I feel deeply suspicious.”

He said it was very apparent that those involved wanted to avoid a legal battle.

”It would be a travesty if another African country allowed the shipment to take place. It would be slap in the face to the ordinary people of Zimbabwe,” he said.

Referring to the fact that the shipment came from China, Phillip said: ”I’ve been bothered for a while by China’s involvement in Africa. We need to call China to account.”

The legal action by Phillip and Kearny was sought in terms of the National Conventional Arms Control Act (NCACC), which ”requires that any transfer of arms be authorised by a permit issued on terms of the NCACC”.

On Monday South African defence secretary January Masilela, who chairs the scrutiny committee of the NCACC, issued the conveyance permit.

The seven respondents in the case are the NCACC, the minister of defence, the secretary of defence, the minister of foreign affairs, a company called AB Logistics, the Durban port captain and Transnet.

Purshotam said the arms and weapons were supposed be off-loaded and placed in ”secure storage pending the final resolution of this matter”.

Speaking to the media shortly after the decision was handed down, Kearney said: ”I think we believe it would be highly irresponsible for additional arms to be made available in that kind of situation where we have an election that seems to have collapsed.”

Masilela referred all comments to Minister of Provincial and Local Government Sydney Mufamadi, who is also chairperson of the NCACC.

However, Mufamadi’s spokesperson, Zandile Ratsitanga, referred all comment to Masilela.

Foreign affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said he was not aware that the foreign affairs minister was a respondent and he could not immediately comment. — Sapa