New Dutch arms control legislation leaves transport sector untouched

A Dutch-flagged ship carrying US supplied weapons and explosives is feared to be on its way to Egypt, Amnesty International reported this week. While US authorities admit that the Dutch vessel is carrying US military cargo, they refuse to confirm the final destination or recipient of the weapons, citing security reasons. The US Navy however denies that the weapons will be offloaded in any Egyptian port.


The MV Schippersgracht departed from Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point (MOTSU) in Southport, North Carolina, on 3 March and was said to arrive at Port Said in Egypt next week. According to Amnesty the ship is carrying cartridges for weapons, fuses, and other ammunition.

Dutch company Spliethoff that manages the Schippersgracht, is a contractor for the US Military Sealift Command. The Amsterdam-based company claims to be “the largest shipowner in the Netherlands.”

“This ship of shame should not be allowed to unload its dangerous cargo in Egypt,” said Brian Wood, Amnesty International’s head of arms control. “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 US is recklessly sending a constant flow of arms to Egypt.”

Also after the removal of dictator Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian military has maintained its power, unwilling to give up its dominant position – one of the main demands of Egypt’s protest movement over the past year. More than one hundred people were killed and thousands more injured over the last five months by security forces.

Last month, Egypt’s security forces used excessive force, including shotguns and live ammunition, to disperse protests, killing at least 16 people and injuring hundreds of others, Amnesty said.


Even when the ammunition would not be offloaded in Egypt, Washington should be transparent about the final destination. Its unwillingness to disclose the recipient contributes to suspicions that the destination is no less controversial.


But there is also a responsibility from the Dutch side too. Especially as a major trading and shipping nation, the Dutch government cannot simply look away. Unfortunately very recently they missed an opportunity to take that responsibility. With the new ‘strategic services act’ (‘Wet strategische diensten’) that took effect 1 January 2012, the government brought different military-related services under export control. While brokering, technological assistance and security services for foreign customers now need export licences, the transport sector and other associated services have been exempted specifically.


With the government not putting any restrictions on them shippers can transport whatever weapons they want – as long as there’s no embargoed country involved. 

Dutch GroenLinks (Green Left) MP Arjan el Fassed has asked clarifications from the government, including why the new legislation does not involve the transport sector.


The inconvenient truth is that the interests of the transport sector and maintaining good Dutch-American relations represent stronger concerns than all rhetoric on human rights together.


[FS, 18 March 2012]