You remember the Chariot? That’s the name of the tramp freighter endowed by fate with her 15 minutes of (unwanted) fame this past January, when stormy weather in the eastern Mediterranean forced her to anchor off Cyprus. Cypriot authorities discovered that the Chariot, enroute from Russia to Syria, was stuffed with weapons, which by lights of the European Union would violate an arms embargo if delivered to Syria — where the Assad regime has inflicted enough highly visible carnage this past year to persuade even Europe to take a stand. The Cypriot authorities let the Chariot proceed, with what I’m told was her Russian crew and cargo, on the understanding that she skip Syria. But Russian authorities are not participating in the EU arms embargo, and the ship delivered her cargo to Syria anyway. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, defended the delivery as violating no international agreements or United Nations resolutions, and as far as Russia is concerned — by way of refusing to join any embargo, and blocking any UN resolution — he was right.
Having provoked outrage among those who think the Assad regime has already received more than enough weapons, the Chariot dropped out of the news. But her adventures did not cease. She sailed to the Ukrainian port of Illichevsk, took on cargo, and began a voyage of roughly four weeks, back down through the Bosphorus, through the eastern Mediterranean, transiting the Suez Canal, daring the pirate perils of the Mandab Strait, and on through the Strait of Hormuz — to Iran. Late last week she anchored at the Iranian port of Assaluyeh. More on this tale, plus details of the Chariot’s munitions shipment last year from Egypt to the Congo (hat tip to to Hugh Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), in my column for Forbes.com on “Russia’s Chariot Calls at Iran.”
What was the Chariot carrying to Iran? In phone interviews with employees of her Russian operators and the Russian ship-broking firm that chartered her to some unnamed third party for her odyssey of recent months, I am told she was laden with two Ukrainian generators, plus “general cargo.” Having discharged her cargo at the Iranian port of Assaluyeh, the Chariot is now anchored off the United Arab Emirates. Ship tracking information databases show no onward destination as yet. Did she, as claimed by employees of her Russian operators and ship-broking firm, undertake that four week voyage from Illichevsk just to deliver two Ukrainian generators, plus “general cargo,” to Iran? Maybe so. One of the Russians I spoke with was not exactly complimentary about the attributes of Ukrainian generators; perhaps the Iranian recipients feel otherwise. In one of my phone calls to the Russian handlers of the Chariot, I was further told that not only is the Chariot not going anywhere at the moment, but that she picked up no cargo at all in Iran — she is now “empty.”
I have no immediate way to confirm what the Chariot delivered to Iran, or whether she picked up anything of interest, or anything at all. I can only report here what I was told when I phoned the Russian offices publicly linked to this ship. The question is, among those vested with greater abilities to keep watch over these busy shipping routes, has anyone checked? Can anyone check? What’s up with the Chariot?