PARIS (Reuters) – A Saudi cargo ship has left the southern French port of Fos-sur-Mer without loading its arms cargo destined for Saudi Arabia, blocked from doing so after pressure from rights campaigners, a French rights group said on Thursday.
The incident reported by ACAT, a Christian organisation against torture, is the second time this month that a Saudi vessel has been blocked from loading arms in France as pressure mounts on Paris to stop arms sales to the kingdom.
A Saudi ship left France’s northern coast two weeks ago without a cargo of weapons after dockers threatened to block its arrival in the port of Le Havre. That came weeks after an online investigative site published leaked French military intelligence that showed weapons sold to the kingdom, including tanks and laser-guided missile systems, were being used against civilians in Yemen’s war.
ACAT said the Saudi freighter, Bahri Tabuk, returned to sea on Wednesday night, with its holds empty.
“Once again, faced with citizen mobilisation and our legal action, a Saudi freighter had to give up loading French weapons, this time in Fos-sur-Mer,” Nathalie Seff of ACAT-France said in a statement.
Refinitiv Eikon shipping data showed that the Saudi-flagged ship, labelled as a vehicle carrier which has transported soybean meal in the past, left Fos and was sailing to Alexandria in Egypt.
French and Saudi governments, and the port authorities could not be reached for comment on Thursday evening.
French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly has said that France had a partnership with Saudi Arabia. When the first vessel was blocked from loading in Le Havre, she said the arms were related to an order dating back several years.
ACAT said it had filed an appeal last week with the Paris Administrative Court to block weapons shipments to Saudi Arabia, arguing that the sales contravened a U.N. treaty because the arms could be used against civilians in the Yemeni conflict, but it said the appeal was rejected.
(Reporting by Bate Felix; Editing by Leslie Adler)