Chinese arms dispatched to Mugabe rejected by ports
– so far
April 24, 2008
LONDON – A floating arsenal of weapons and bombs dispatched by China in a rust-stained tramp freighter to the pariah state of President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe now is being shadowed by Britain’s most powerful submarine, a nuclear Trident.
Freighter officers are desperate to be allowed to unload their cargo of 1,500 rocket-propelled grenades, 2,500 mortar rounds and three million rounds of ammunition for Mugabe’s army, intended to be used to further cow the country’s starving population.
But it has been turned away by dockers in the South African port who branded it “a ship of shame,” as well as ports in Angola and Mozambique.
Now as it wanders around the South Atlantic, the An Yue Jiang, which began its voyage five weeks ago from the Chinese port of Ningbo southwards into the Pacific and across the Indian Ocean, the Beijing Ministry of Defense has been trying to find an African country which would allow it to unload the lethal cargo.
Intelligence sources in London have confirmed that secret approaches have been made to Equatorial Guinea, Benin and the Ivory Coast. But so far none has allowed the ship to dock and offload its weapons.
Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman in Washington, said: “We think that under the present circumstances and the current political crisis in Zimbabwe, now is not the time for anyone to be increasing the number of weapons and armaments available to that country. We will press African nations to refuse the Yue Jiang docking rights or to face worsened relations with the United State.”
Naval intelligence sources in London have said the possibility “cannot be ruled out” that the ship could make the journey to Venezuela, whose maverick leader, President Hugo Chavez, has a good relationship with China and is an opponent of the United States.
“Chavez is a skilled player on the international stage and he could say he was offering to refuel the ship on humanitarian grounds. The weapons could then be transferred to a Venezuelan registered ship and repackaged for Zimbabwe,” said one ship’s broker at Lloyds, the world’s largest shipping broker.
Meantime, the Trident — one of four in the fleet which is based in Faslane on Scotland’s Clyde — is on patrol.
For three months, the black-hulled submarine will be at sea. At 450 feet long and weighing 16,000 tons, the leviathan hull is covered with sonar-absorbing anechoic tiles.
From the depths of the ocean it trails a 1,000-yard-long communications wire. That wire is used to receive and send short burst communications.
The Trident’s role is simply that of a watchdog. But its presence can only reinforce the mood in Washington and London that the shipment of arms must be recalled to China and plans to send further shipments abandoned by the Beijing regime.
Gordon Thomas is the author of the newly published Secrets and Lies: A History of CIA Mind Control and Germ Warfare (Octavo Editions, USA) and the forthcoming Inside British Intelligence (JR Books, UK).