A Freighter Can't Unload Its Freight of US munitions to Israel
by Otfried Nassauer (Translated by Agatha Haun, Tlaxcala)
A German container ship wanted to bring US munitions to Israel, but the
war in the Gaza Strip got in the way.
The task seemed dead certain and in addition, it was lucrative. On 6
December 2008 the Hamburg shipping company Oskar Wehr KG won an invitation
for tenders issued by the US navy's sea transport command. For $635,900
the Hamburg company was supposed to take 989 containers of munitions from
Sunny Point, North Carolina, USA, to the Mediterranean.
On 20 December the "Wehr Elbe", a 208-metre long full container
ship with its own loading cranes, picked up the explosive cargo on the
east coast of the US. At the beginning of January, the ship reached the
waters near the western Greek port of Astakos. Since then the "Wehr
Elbe" has been a problem case. It was unable to rid itself of the
The US navy had chartered the ship in order to transport the tremendous
quantity of munitions to Israel. The destination of the containers was
the port of Ashdod. It lies halfway between Tel Aviv and the Gaza Strip.
The US armed forces wanted to refill their munitions depots in Israel
with these munitions. Israel also can have recourse to these in an emergency,
if Washington has approved of it in advance. Pentagon spokesman Geoff
Morell confirmed that on Tuesday. He said that he didn't know whether
Israel had made use of that opportunity in recent months.
The Pentagon remains taciturn
The Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip began a few days before the arrival
of the "Wehr Elbe" in Astakos. Greece refused to allow the unloading
of the cargo of munitions, in order for it to be reloaded onto smaller
vessels before being shipped on to Israel. The sea transport command withdrew
two invitations for tenders for smaller shipments of munitions from Astakos
Almost two weeks later, on 12 January, the "Wehr Elbe" left
Greek waters without having accomplished anything, and with an unknown
destination. Since then the ship has turned off its transponder. Its present
location can therefore no longer be followed.
The Pentagon also, which initially was so forthcoming with information,
became reticent: Alternative ways were being sought in order to bring
the munitions to Israel. They had not yet been found. From now on the
European office of the maritime transport command in Naples was responsible.
There were also reasons for the increased reluctance to impart information.
Amnesty International had found out about the shipping of the munitions
and reported that in the documents related to the call for tenders, there
was also mention of shells with white phosphorous.
This type of munition is extremely controversial. Many people consider
ist use to be a violation of international law. Israel has been accused
of using it in the Gaza Strip. With its publcation, on the other hand,
Amnesty emphasized its demand for a complete weapons embargo against all
warring parties in the Gaza conflict.
The Hamburg shipping company markets its transport services in the Internet
under the apt address www.wehrtransport.de.
(Translator's note: in German, the word "Wehr"
denotes military, defence, weapons, etc., thus "wehrtransport"
could be taken to mean (here unintentionally) "shipping of weapons".)
is a freelance journalist and director of the Berlin Information Centre
for Transatlantic Security / Berliner Informationszentrum for Transatlantische
Sicherheit - BITS