A Chinese ship carrying a shipment of arms and ammunition destined for Zimbabwe was not in South African territorial waters, South African Defence Ministry spokesperson Themba Gadebe said on Monday.
Reacting to a statement by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (Salc) that claimed the An Yue Jiang was ”passing through South Africa’s territorial waters in violation” of a Durban High Court order, he said: ”We are keeping track of it and we are certain that it is not in South Africa’s territorial waters.”
Earlier on Monday, Gadebe had said: ” The South African National Defence Force is updated on a regular basis with regard to the ship’s movement through its maritime intelligence sources, and we will follow the best legal course of action should we be requested to act against the ship.”
He would not say where the ship was located, except to say that earlier on Monday it was situated off the West Coast of South Africa.
The An Yue Jiang lifted its anchor off Durban on Friday night moments after the Durban High Court ordered it to dock in Durban and offload its controversial cargo into the custody of the sheriff of Durban.
Meanwhile, The Associated Press reports that the Bush administration is intervening with governments in Southern Africa to prevent the ship from unloading its cargo.
The State Department’s top Africa hand, Jendayi Frazer, plans to visit the region this week to underscore United States concerns about the shipment. Frazer also will try to persuade Zimbabwe’s neighbours to step up pressure on President Robert Mugabe’s government to publish results from a disputed election that the opposition claims to have won, administration officials said on Monday.
US intelligence agencies are tracking the An Yue Jiang, and American diplomats have been instructed to press authorities in at least four nations — South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Angola — not to allow it to dock, the officials told The Associated Press. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss delicate diplomatic talks.
The statement released by Salc director Nicole Fritz said: ”The An Yue Jiang, carrying arms destined for Zimbabwe, has been spotted off the coast of South Africa and is en route to Lobito, Angola.
”At present the ship is passing through South Africa’s territorial waters in violation of Friday’s court order and SALC calls upon the South African [National] Defence Force, in particular the navy, to stop the passage of the ship.”
She said the court order suspended the operation of the conveyance order required for transfer of arms anywhere in South Africa, including its territorial waters. She said that without the permit, which was issued on April 14 by Defence Secretary January Masilela, the ship was operating in violation of the National Conventional Arms Control Act.
She added: ”South African authorities are required to stop the passage of this ship through South African waters and enforce Friday’s court order.
”If they do not stop the ship, knowing that it is within South African waters and in breach of South African law, they provide tacit support and assistance for the transfer of these arms knowing that they are likely to be used in the commission of the worst sort of human rights violations in Zimbabwe.”
South Africa’s territorial waters extend from the low-tide mark along the coast to 12 nautical miles (approximately 22km) out to sea.
‘No request’ in Namibia
Earlier on Monday, Namibian port authorities said there has been no request by the vessel to dock in either of Namibia’s two ports.
Wessels Feris, acting manager for marketing and strategic business development at Namport, which operates both the ports of Walvis Bay and LÃƒÂ¼deritz, said: ”We have not had any request and there is no indication that she will come here.”
Wang Kun Hu, the MD of Cosren, said he did not know where the vessel was headed, adding: ”The ship has left Durban. We are checking with the owner on the next port of call. We are waiting for the information right now.”
Cosren is a subsidiary of the China Ocean Shipping Group Company (Cosco), which owns the An Yue Jiang. An official at Cosco Africa in Johannesburg said the MD, only identified as Mr Lin, was in China at a shareholders’ meeting.
In Johannesburg, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) called for an international boycott of the vessel.
”Cosatu is doing everything possible to alert the international trade-union movement to the danger to the workers of Zimbabwe if the cargo is allowed to be unloaded and delivered to Mugabe’s forces.
”The federation is writing to its comrades in other federations, including those of Angola and China, to enlist their support for the international workers’ boycott,” the union federation said in a statement.
South African Transport and Allied Workers’ Union secretary general Randall Howard also called on trade unions and employers in all African countries to prevent the vessel from docking and to refuse to handle or transport its ”lethal cargo”. — Sapa