Namibian rights group out to prevent Chinese arms ship docking

(dpa) - A Namibian rights organization was preparing Tuesday to go to court to try to stop a Chinese freighter carrying weapons destined for Zimbabwe from offloading at Walvis Bay port in Namibia but port control there said it had received no such request from the vessel.

"We're trying to get a court order to stop the ship from offloading at Walvis Bay," Norman Tjombe, director of the Legal Assistance Centre in Windhoek, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa Tuesday.

"We have written letters to the relevant ministries to refrain from allowing the ship to dock here and we're preparing papers for the High Court now."

But port control in Walvis Bay told dpa they had received no request from the vessel to refuel or dock at the port so far and had no idea of its whereabouts.

Speculation in Namibia is rife about whether the ship that hightailed it out of Durban harbour after a court there barred the transport of the cargo across South Africa would now try to access Zimbabwe via the Atlantic coast port of Walvis Bay in Namibia or the harbours of Namibe or Luanda in Angola.

Namibia has excellent roads that directly connect to Zimbabwe via the north-eastern Caprivi Strip.

Namibia also has close ties with both Zimbabwe and China dating back to its liberation struggle that brought about independence from South Africa in 1990.

The exact whereabouts of the An Yue Jiang Tuesday was not clear. A spokeswoman for the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) claimed Monday the vessel was still within South African waters - a claim South Africa's Defence Ministry rejected.

The Namibian newspaper had reported Tuesday that the ship, which is carrying six containers of weapons and ammunition, had applied to take on fuel at Walvis Bay Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, Dawid Tjombe, president of the Namibian Transport and Allied Workers' Union (NATAU), said their members were guided by the International Transport Federation and would thus act in accordance with their directives.

"Should the ship dock at this stage, because of international and national labour involvement, we will not offload," he told dpa, hastening to add: "I am not against the politics of Zimbabwe, but we are waiting for the results to be released."

Tjombe's union is also affiliated to the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), which in turn is affiliated to Namibia's ruling party SWAPO.

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