ANKARA, Turkey – Customs authorities in Istanbul seized a radio-controlled missile and launcher as well as other weapons from a ship that was headed for Egypt from Ukraine, a government official said Thursday.
The weapons, which also included a number of rockets and warheads, were discovered in two containers after customs officials searched the ship that had docked at the port of Ambarli, 20 miles from Istanbul, said Kursad Tuzmen, the minister in charge of foreign trade and customs.
“The cargo declared by the ship’s captain did not match what was inside the containers,” Tuzmen told reporters after meeting with customs officials and paramilitary police at Ambarli. “There were military weapons inside.”
“We can say that the weapons are the kind that we can describe as ‘sophisticated,'” he said.
He did gave no further details on the quantity, nature of the weapons or on the missile’s range.
Tuzmen said the ship’s captain had declared the ship was carrying spare parts. Officials became suspicious after noticing damage to numbers inscribed on the container, he said.
Asked whether the containers may have also included chemical weapons, Tuzmen replied: “The inspections are ongoing.”
Ukranian diplomats have visited the port and the Foreign Ministry demanded an official explanation for the seizure, ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivsky said.
“There are no grounds for such a sensation,” Lubkivsky said.
He identified the ship as the Maltese-flagged Breze-47 and said the crew included six Ukranians.
Tuzmen said the ship from Ukraine had unloaded the containers at Ambarli. Another ship was scheduled to carry the cargo to Egypt.
Tuzmen refused to comment on reports that the ship’s crew had been arrested. Lubkivsky said the Ukranian crew members were not arrested.
Another senior Turkish government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the crew of the second ship arrived at customs and began asking about an “armaments shipment” they had to transport to Egypt.
A defense official in Egypt, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Defense Ministry had no information about the shipment.
Port authorities on Thursday barred journalists from approaching the area where the ship was docked.
Turkey has boosted security ahead of a NATO summit in Istanbul later this month which President Bush and other leaders are scheduled to attend.
Last month, police in the northwestern city of Bursa announced that they had foiled a plan to attack the summit and courts have charged nine people in connection with that plot.
Four truck bombings blamed on a Turkish al-Qaida cell killed more than 60 people in November in Istanbul. A court has charged 69 suspects in those bombings.