HELSINKI - Finland has removed a cargo of 69 Patriot missiles found aboard a merchant ship that docked in the country and allowed the vessel to leave, transport safety officials said Dec. 26.
Thor Liberty was detained Dec. 15 in Kotka, southeast Finland, and was later found to be carrying 150 tons of explosive material, as well as the surface-to-air Patriot missiles and missile propellant charges.
"A Trafi check on 26.12.2011 has revealed that the improperly loaded explosive material has been offloaded from the vessel, with the exception of two properly loaded containers, and the detention order has been lifted," the Finnish Transport Safety Authority Trafi said in a statement.
However Trafi noted that the ship was still unable to continue on its journey because Finnish customs had placed the Ukrainian captain and first mate under a travel ban pending an investigation into the missiles.
Trafi added that customs had also impounded the explosives still on board the ship in two containers.
The missiles, discovered Dec. 21 aboard the British-registered ship, were bound for the Chinese port city of Shanghai, according to Finnish police. Finnish customs are investigating the case as one of illegal export of defense material.
A German defense ministry spokesman said the Patriot missiles, produced by Raytheon, came from the German military and were destined for South Korea.
He said it was a "legal sale on the basis of an accord between two states at the government level." He said the transaction had received an official export authorization and was reported to customs authorities.
However Finland said Dec. 23 it had not received the paperwork required from Germany.
SYDNEY - Australia's military is looking to recruit foreign troops, particularly those let go in Britain where the government has announced cutbacks on defense spending, according to a Dec. 27 report.
The Australian Defence Force has struggled to fill recruitment quotas and was seeking highly skilled specialists such as fighter pilots and submarine crews from overseas, The Australian newspaper said.
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) recently sent a delegation to Britain to look into the possibility of recruiting recently retrenched sailors, it added.
The Australian Defence Force, which is facing competition for personnel - particularly engineers - due to the nation's lucrative mining boom, confirmed that talks had taken place with British officials.
"The Royal Australian Navy has been in talks with the Royal Navy about this possibility and that obviously will depend on those personnel meeting the Royal Australian Navy's requirements," a spokesman told Agence France-Presse.
He did not comment on whether the military, which has some 1,550 troops in Afghanistan, was prepared to fast-track Australian citizenship for foreign recruits, as reported by The Australian.
The development comes after British Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled 8 percent cuts to the armed forces budget and set out plans to reduce the size of the Royal Army, Navy and Air Force by 17,000 troops.
The report in The Australian said Australian Navy chief Ray Griggs assured his British counterpart that Canberra would not recruit personnel the British needed to maintain their capabilities.
The Australian Defence Force was also looking to other western countries, including the United States, Canada and New Zealand, to build up personnel, particularly for its submarine crews, the newspaper said.
On its website, the Australian Defence Force says it "looks to overseas candidates to fill gaps in our services that can't currently be satisfied by standard recruitment."
It said its Navy recruitment program was aimed at "serving or immediately ex-serving officers and sailors of foreign naval forces [not greater than three years since separation from military service] with specific qualifications and/or experience that is directly transferable to the RAN."
TEHRAN, Iran - No oil will be permitted to pass through the key oil transit Strait of Hormuz if the West applies sanctions on Iran's oil exports, Iranian Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi warned Dec. 27.
"If sanctions are adopted against Iranian oil, not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz," Rahimi was quoted as saying. "We have no desire for hostilities or violence ... but the West doesn't want to go back on its plan" to impose sanctions. The enemies will only drop their plots when we put them back in their place."
The threat underlined Iran's readiness to target the narrow stretch of water along its Gulf coast if it is attacked or economically strangled by Western sanctions.
More than one-third of the world's tanker-borne oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz. The United States maintains a Navy presence in the Gulf in large part to ensure that passage remains free.
Iran is currently carrying out navy exercises in international waters to the east of the Strait of Hormuz. Ships and aircraft dropped mines in the sea Dec. 27 as part of the drill, according to a Iranian Navy spokesman.
Although Iranian wargames occur periodically, the timing of these is seen as a show of strength as the United States and Europe prepare to impose further sanctions on Iran's oil and financial sectors.
The last round of sanctions, announced in November, triggered a pro-regime protest in front of the British embassy in Tehran during which Basij militia members overran the mission, ransacking it.
London closed the embassy as a result and ordered Iran's mission in Britain shut as well.
Tehran in September rejected a Washington call for a military hotline between the capitals to defuse any "miscalculations" that could occur between their militaries in the Gulf.
An Iranian lawmaker's comments last week that the exercises would block the Strait of Hormuz briefly sent oil prices soaring before that was denied by the government.
While the foreign ministry said such drastic action was "not on the agenda," it reiterated Iran's threat of "reactions" if the current tensions with the West spilled over into open confrontation.
MOSCOW - Russia on Dec. 27 successfully test fired its long-range RS-18 ballistic missile from the Baiknonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with a new warhead aimed at overcoming Western air defense systems, news agencies said.
A RUSSIAN RS-18 intercontinental ballistic missile launches in October 2008 from a space base in Kazakhstan. (File photo / Agence France-Presse)
The RS-18, a warhorse missile known to the West as Stilet (Stileto) that the Russian defense ministry has given a new lease of life, successfully hit its target on the Kamchatka peninsula on the Pacific, reports quoted the defense ministry as saying.
RIA Novosti news agency said that the RS-18 was carrying a new warhead aimed at overcoming missile defense systems at a time of growing tensions over plans for a U.S. missile shield in Europe.