Tensions between UK and Russia soared over Syria-bound helicopters

 

Mexico City

Britain came alarmingly close to a dangerous clash with Moscow when David Cameron was asked to consider giving an order to forcibly board a ship headed towards the English Channel carrying three Russian-made helicopters for delivery to the regime in Syria, it emerged today.

Any seizure would have been carried out by members of the Special Boat Service, SBS, the only military unit authorised to performing opposed embarkations at sea. The helicopters are believed to be the same ones that prompted US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, recently to berate Russia for sending military hardware to Syria.

Officials traveling with the Prime Minister on an official visit to Mexico City yesterday gave the first detailed account of a series of high-level meetings that happened at Whitehall at the end of last week as the authorities tracked the ship, the MV Alead, which was steaming southwards through the North Sea after departing from Leningrad port.

Mr Cameron was briefed on a continuous basis, they said, on the results of a series of meetings of the emergency Cobra committee as the ship approached waters off Dover. Officials said that at that point "all options were on the table" about preventing the ship continuing its voyage towards Syria.  They did not deny that those options might have included an armed boarding and seizure of the vessel, an action that surely would have elicited Russian ire.

As the Government consulted with Denmark and the Netherlands on options for stopping it, the ship abruptly turned around on Friday, they said. But by the end of the weekend it was in the Hebrides area and bound westwards apparently on a course to go around Scotland and then south again towards the Straits of Gibraltar.

The crisis only eased, it seems, when an international maritime insurance firm was persuaded to withdraw coverage of the ship and its cargo.  At noon on Monday, the ship had turned eastwards again.  Yesterday, it was reported to be back in the Baltic seemingly headed back to Russia. 

The near-scrape on the seas was raised by Mr Cameron at a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Los Cabos G20 summit yesterday, sources said.  He directly challenged him about arming the Syrian regime. Mr Putin responded with the assertion that other countries had been arming opposition forces in Syria.

Britain is expected to push the European Union to redraft parts of its arms embargo on Syria to extend it into the area of insurance.  The changes would mean that any company found to be selling coverage to vessels bearing arms to Syra would be in violation of the sanctions.  They said it would be handled at a foreign ministers council meeting in Brussels next week.

Asked directly if plans were laid to seize the Alead the senior UK official said they had "considered all options".  Officials believe the three helicopters were already owned by the Syrian regime but had been sent to Russia for servicing.  Returning them to Syria would have increased the size of its helicopter fleet by 10 per cent.  Some air defence weaponry was also thought to be on the Alead.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living