NEWS

Confusion abounds in hunt for owners of ghost ship

Authorities hit more dead ends yesterday in the hunt for the Irish owners of a «ghost ship» seized after a mysterious voyage carrying tons of explosives. Merchant Marine Minister Giorgos Anomeritis said the investigation into the Baltic Sky was being hampered by the recent revocation of its Comoros registry and seaworthiness certificates. «The ship is not legally registered, it does not belong to the flag which it flies. It is a ghost ship that would have been seized anywhere it went, whether it was carrying explosives or potatoes,» Anomeritis said. Coast guard commandos boarded and seized the Baltic Sky on Sunday outside the little-used Ionian Sea port of Astakos after a tip from a NATO anti-terrorism task force. The ship was carrying 680 tons of ammonium nitrate-based explosives and 140,000 detonators. The ship loaded the explosives in Tunisia on May 12 to deliver them to a company in Sudan. Tunisian and Sudanese officials claim the transaction was legal. The ship, however, drew the attention of NATO by sailing to Turkey and anchoring there until June 20, when it left for Greece. It was seized two days later when it entered Greek waters. Its seven-member crew – five Ukrainians and two Azeris – was jailed on Wednesday pending a full investigation. They are charged with entering Greek waters without declaring their cargo. «It is in the hands of the judiciary. When we have something, we will follow it up at a government level,» government spokesman Christos Protopappas said. «At this moment, there is nothing.» Although Greek officials have not fully ruled out the possibility that the explosives could have been bound for terrorists, they have narrowed their investigation in a more mundane direction: that the shipment was delayed so the shipowners could charge more money for its delivery. Greek investigators are no strangers to the murky world of shipping ownership. Greece is one of the world’s leading merchant marine nations. But they appear stumped by the Baltic Sky, a ship that in recent years had multiple owners and flags. Investigators have had no luck finding the owner of the ship, identified by its captain as Christian McNulty of Ireland. Several maritime sources, including the authoritative Lloyd’s List, have linked McNulty with a Sligo, Ireland-based company, Unithorn Ltd, which is listed as the ship’s manager. McNulty is associated with a string of problem-plagued shipping firms over the years, reports said. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach McNulty or Unithorn have been unsuccessful. Greek officials are also looking into the possibility that the Irishman may have also been operating the ship through an Istanbul-based company. When it was seized, the Baltic Sky had paperwork indicating it was managed by a company in the Pacific Ocean Marshall Islands and registered in the Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros, which is an emerging «flag of convenience» for vessels to skirt taxes and regulations. Anomeritis said, however, that Comoros had revoked its flag on June 3. Its Ukrainian captain, Anatoliy Baltak, told a magistrate June 3 was also the date he took over the ship in Istanbul. Baltak said that on June 20, McNulty changed the location of the delivery and ordered him to take it to Astakos instead of Sudan. He said he believed the shipment was legal and that Greece had been informed.