GEORGE GEDDAUS ship detained by YU military
WASHINGTON (August 25, 2000) - Gun-toting Yugoslav military personnel boarded a U.S. vessel carrying humanitarian food supplies in the Adriatic last weekend and allowed the ship to leave after payment of a $3,200 fee, U.S. government and shipping sources said Friday night.
There were moments of high tension during the incident, said State Department spokesman Philip Reeker.
"This kind of harassment could impede future humanitarian shipments" in the region, he said. The shipment, consisting of grain, was earmarked for Kosovo.
The vessel, known as the Delaware Bay, was seized in Yugoslav territorial waters off the coast of Montenegro, the smaller of the two republics that make up Yugoslavia.
Word of the incident was first reported by the newsletter of the American Maritime Congress, which said that the vessel also was carrying military cargo for Israel and Egypt.
Reeker had no comment on that allegation but other officials said it is not uncommon for Farrell Lines, which chartered the ship, to make such deliveries.
The incident occurred at a time of growing U.S. concern about the intentions of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic toward Montenegro, which has a pro-western government and whose leaders have made no secret of their desire for independence. Some U.S. officials believe Milosevic may be poised for a military move against the province.
Reeker said the Yugoslavs demanded that the ship be taken to a military port, that communications be shut down, and that the bill of lading and crew list be turned over.
The ship master handed over the crew list but refused to shut down communications, Reeker said. It was not clear whether the bill of lading was turned over.
Reeker said Yugoslav authorities allowed the ship to dock at the Montenegrin port of Bar, the destination of the vessel. He said the cargo was loaded off the ship after the Yugoslavs demanded and received payment of a fee.
The newsletter said Farrell Lines paid $3,200. The vessel was then allowed to leave after a stay of four hours.
Under international law, the Yugoslavs can ask for a crew list and a bill of lading but cannot demand a communications shutdown or ask that the vessel be taken to a military port, U.S. officials said.
According to the newsletter, the seven or so Yugoslav military personnel who boarded the ship believed that the vessel had off-loaded ammunition and arms in Albania. Reeker did not address that issue but the newsletter said the allegation was false.
Lawrence H. O'Toole, president of the Maritime Engineers' Beneficial Association, wrote President Clinton, saying the incident threatened the safety of the ship's crew and "calls for a swift and firm" response.
Reeker said the Yugoslav government is aware of the U.S. attitude toward such "provocative and disruptive actions." He said the actions were inconsistent with a U.N. Security Council resolution requiring Yugoslavia to allow unimpeded access to Kosovo for humanitarian relief operations.