“Ship of Shame” Carrying Weapons and Explosives To Egypt from United States Should Not be Allowed to Deliver Cargo

Dutch-flagged ship, MV Schippersgracht, (IMO 9197363) Holland, 19 November 2011. Copyright Wim van der Moolen
Press Release
March 15, 2012

“Ship of Shame” Carrying Weapons and Explosives To Egypt from United States Should Not be Allowed to Deliver Cargo

Contact: Sharon Singh, ssingh@aiusa.org, 202.675.8579

(New York) – Amnesty International said today a ship with a cargo of weapons with explosives that is en route from the United States to Egypt must not be allowed to offload because of a substantial risk the weapons will be used by Egyptian security forces to commit human rights violations.

Amnesty International has tracked the Dutch-flagged ship, MV Schippersgracht – what the organization calls “the ship of shame” -- for the past two months. It is currently in the Mediterranean Sea and due to arrive in Egypt early next week.

At the same time, the human rights organization asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to withhold certification required to release military aid to Egypt until the Egyptian government demonstrates its commitment to protecting human rights. Amnesty International is opposed to any of the $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Egypt being used for the purchase of weapons, ammunition, military equipment and military vehicles that can be used by Egypt's government to suppress human rights.  Amnesty International is also opposed to any waiver of this human rights certification requirement. Read the letter to Secretary Clinton.

"The United States should not place more weapons in the hands of the Egyptian security forces that have shown ongoing disregard for the rights of the Egyptian people," said Suzanne Nossel, executive director, Amnesty International USA. "It would be flat-out wrong and shameful for the United States to falsely certify that the Egyptian government is protecting human rights – and would send a dangerous signal to waive that certification requirement.”

Last December 23, President Barack Obama signed into law the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which requires the Secretary of State to certify to Congress that the Egyptian government is “implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law” before $1.3 billion in military aid can be provided to the Egyptian government under the Foreign Military Financing Program. The law also enables the Secretary of State to waive the certification requirement on national security grounds.

Amnesty International has tracked the Dutch-flagged ship, MV Schippersgracht, for the past two months. It is currently in the Mediterranean Sea and due to arrive in Egypt early next week.

The vessel had previously arrived at the U.S Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point (MOTSU), Southport in North Carolina on February 24. MOTSU is the largest ammunition port in the United States and is the Department of Defense’s key Atlantic Coast ammunition shipping point.

On March 3, the ship left Sunny Point, a military-only port, carrying a class of dangerous goods that covers cartridges for weapons, fuses, and other ammunition. The ship has a cargo capacity of 21,000 tons and 1,100 twenty foot containers. The captain reported the ship’s next destination as Port Said in Egypt.  

Brian Wood, Amnesty International’s head of arms control, said: “There is a clear pattern that weapons from previous ships have recently been used to commit serious human rights violations by the Egyptian security forces, and yet the United States is recklessly sending a constant flow of arms to Egypt.”

As recently as last month, Egypt’s Central Security Forces (riot police) used excessive force, including shotguns and live ammunition, to disperse protests, killing at least 16 people and injuring hundreds of others.  

Over the past year, the Egyptian security forces, including the military, have used excessive force, including lethal force, against protestors. More than one hundred people were killed and thousands more injured over the last five months by security forces.

The Dutch company Spliethoff's Bevrachtingskantoor BV, a contractor for the U.S. Military Sealift Command, which manages the Schippersgracht, provided no comment on the latest shipment when contacted by Amnesty International.

The latest shipment follows a series of significant quantities of arms the U.S. supplied to Egypt.

Between December 11, 2011 and February 5, the Egyptian Procurement Office (EPO) of the Armament Authority, Ministry of Defense procured a total of 349 tons of military and dual use equipment with a value of at least $35 million (U.S.dollars) supplied on seven U.S.-flagged cargo ships, which are managed by American President Lines Maritime Ltd.

Equipment on these seven cargo ships included military spare parts and components for electronic equipment, tactical and support vehicles, tanker vehicles, armored vehicles and tanks, spare parts for AH-64 Apache, H-3 and SH-2G (E) helicopters.

The Egyptian security forces’ use of ammunition is a clear example of the urgent need for the establishment and implementation of an effective global Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which enters the final stage of crucial negotiations in July.

Amnesty International is calling for ammunition to be included among the conventional arms to be regulated by the treaty, a move the United States government currently opposes.

In a letter to Secretary Clinton about the congressional certification needed for military aid, Amnesty International pointed to the new Egyptian government’s abysmal human rights record and urged the State Department to immediately halt any funding already being used to provide weapons, ammunition, military equipment and military vehicles that can be used by Egypt’s government to suppress human rights. Amnesty International does not have a position on the funding or transfer of military equipment that falls outside of these parameters.

Amnesty International, working with Transarms and the International Peace and Information Service (IPIS), has documented the transfer of arms from the world’s major arms suppliers, including China, Russia, and the United States, to countries where there is a substantial risk the weapons will be used to commit serious human rights violations.


Background information on MV Schippersgracht’s journey

The Dutch-flagged general cargo ship MV Schippersgracht arrived at Baltimore, in Maryland, in the USA, on January 25, from Eemshaven, in Groningen, in the Netherlands.

The ship left Baltimore on January 26 2012 and reached Jacksonville, in Florida, on January 28. . The Schippersgracht left Jacksonville nearly one month later, on February 23 and sailed north to the port of the Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point (MOTSU), Southport in North Carolina, where the ship arrived on February 24.

The MOTSU is described by North Carolina Department of Commerce as the “largest ammunition port in the nation… and is the Department of Defense’s key Atlantic Coast ammunition shipping point. It provides worldwide trans-shipment of Department of Defense ammunition, explosives and other dangerous cargo”, as well as being a logistics hub for intermodal military cargo movements by rail, trucks, and ships.

On March 3, the ship left Sunny Point with cargo that included IMO Class C of dangerous goods that is equivalent to the U.N. Hazard Material Division 1.4, which covers cartridges for weapons, fuses and detonators, other ammunition.

The Schippersgracht was not listed in the commercial movements of the U.S. East Coast ports and its last port of call in the United States was Sunny Point, indicating that its cargo is of military nature only.

The International Maritime Organization and UN Hazard Materials category 1.4 covers cartridges for weapons, fuses, and other ammunition.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 2.8 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries, campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.