Cargo vessel with suspected terrorist stowaways off Algarve coast

Syrian stowaways are both injured, need urgent medical attention

There is a deal of confusion this morning about the exact whereabouts, sailing plan and situation of cargo vessel Vestvind, sailing under a Portuguese flag, on which two injured Syrians, allegedly wanted in their country for terrorism, were discovered last week.

According to Correio da Manhã today, the boat “has been nine days in the Tejo waiting for a port to dock in”. 

The paper confirms “It has two alleged extremists on board, according to (Italian newspaper) Gazetta del Sud”.

But the Marine Traffic ship tracking website suggests the German-owned vessel is off the coast of Faro as we write, on course for a port in Poland.

This gels far more with a report in Expresso last night saying the merchant ship was “almost passing through the straits of Gibraltar”.

What seems certain is that the two injured Syrians are still on board. When they were first discovered by the crew last week, captain Maximiliano Zidekter assessed that they needed urgent medical assistance. As a result, he requested permission from the port of Messina (Italy) to hand the men over to local authorities.

This is where things began getting complicated. Captain Zidekter had “reportedly inspected the two men’s belongings and found photographs of both with Kalashnikovs in their hands. After reporting the facts to the Italian authorities, an investigation was conducted which led to suspicions that the two Syrians may belong to extremist groups” says Expresso.

Not surprisingly perhaps, the answer back from the port of Messina was that it “did not have the specialised personnel for this type of operation”.

A lawyer for the ship’s German owners is cited as having said “we are waiting for the Portuguese government to send a new request to the (Italian) State” in order to allow the two men to disembark.

Expresso however says it was unable to confirm this as it wasn’t able to contact the lawyer, named as Diego Mirti Della Valle, directly.

The paper adds that “a source close to the case, who requested anonymity, said that Portugal has no responsibility in this matter and said that the vessel has already been refused landing in some European ports, without, however, giving further details”.

Expresso has since contacted the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the secretary of State for the Sea and Foreigners and Borders Service SEF, “to understand if the vessel is on its way to Portugal, if the two Syrians will disembark and what are the procedures that are usually adopted in these situations”. Until time of writing, journalists had not received a response.

According to information available on vessel tracking websites, the vessel left Izmir, on Turkey’s west coast, on June 8, bound for Poland, with an estimated arrival date in Poland in four days time. 

The Vestvind is termed “a general cargo” vessel, built seven years ago, sailing under the flag of Portugal, with an overall length of 130 metres, width 25 metres.

According to Vessel Finder, it is mostly used to transport equipment for offshore wind farms.

One aspect that Expresso highlighted at the end of its report last night was that the Syrian government’s definition of an extremist/ terrorist “may differ from that of European authorities”.

UPDATE: Fleetmon tracking website has since said that Portuguese police are understood to have boarded the Vestvind today. This has not been confirmed by another other sources. The Vestvind is now well on its way towards rounding Cape St Vincent, in Sagres.

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