Wednesday’s seizure by Finnish Customs officials of a cargo of explosives and high-tech missiles aboard a Manx-flagged ship has aroused a number of questions. Not only is the final intended destination of the 69 American-made Patriot missiles still unclear, it is being asked why such a valuable cargo was poorly packed and shipped with faulty documents.

The Patriot missiles, purchased from Germany, were on their way to Asia via the Finnish port of Kotka. Finnish Customs and the National Bureau of Investigation are trying to determine who ordered the weapons, who sold them and exactly where they were headed.

Their journey was interrupted when a spot check of the cargo aboard the M/S Thor Liberty showed that the shipment lacked a permit from the Ministry of Defence that is required for the export or transit of military materiel.

Customs and police turned their attention to the vessel after being informed by the Finnish Transport Safety Agency (TraFi) that it had received advance information that it was possibly carrying explosives.

Arms shipments transit Finnish territorial waters regularly, but few ships with such cargoes sail without the proper documentation.

“Exceptional incident”

“This incident is exceptional because of the amount of the materials and the type. Personally I cannot remember a case of this magnitude in recent years,” head of Finnish customs anti-crime unit Petri Lounatmaa told YLE.

The transport of explosives back and forth across the Gulf of Finland has raised safety concerns. Emergency Services in Kotka set up a one-kilometre restricted zone around the vessel while its cargo was being handled by officials. Even so, the ship had already carried 150 tonnes of improperly secured explosives across the Gulf of Finland without informing anyone.

“When this huge amount of explosives are being transported and safety measures are not observed, it does indeed arouse suspicious and concerns,” says Lounatmaa.