Earlier today (17 May), the Borkum carrier decided not to attempt to dock at Cartagena Port, Murcia, amid swirling allegations that the Antigua and Barbuda-flagged vessel is shipping arms to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) via Ashdod Port.

The commotion was but the latest controversy in a chaotic week for Cartagena’s port authorities and Oscar Puente, Spain’s Minister for Transport, who has vehemently denied the allegations.

Spain’s government, however, rejected the Marianne Danica’s port of call at Cartagena on Wednesday (15 May), El País reported, as part of what Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares called “a consistent policy with any ship carrying arms to Israel that wants to call at Spanish ports”.

The vessel’s operator H Folmer & Co said the government’s decision was a “mistake”, Trade Winds reported. The Danish-flagged Marianne Danica was en route from Chennai, India, to Israel’s Haifa Port, satellite data from Marine Traffic shows, but its last transmitted location was just off the coast of Mauritania, West Africa.

Why did Spain block the Marianne Danica’s port of call?

Madrid’s decision, the first time Spain has refused port of call authorisation for Israeli-arms-carrying ships, is a bold move by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s leftist coalition government.

It remains rare for EU members to reject carriers registered under another EU country.

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The European Commission’s Articles 3eb and 3ec state that “port access should not be granted if a competent authority has reasonable cause to suspect that the vessel is in breach of the relevant prohibitions”. This framework names Russian oil exports as prohibited, but not arms intended for IDF use in Gaza.

Spain exercised this right in February 2023, when the government banned a Singapore-flagged vessel operated by Denmark’s Maersk from Spanish ports after its cargo of oil products was discovered to have been carried by another vessel that was formerly Russian-flagged.

The refusal of the Marianne Danica’s port of call marks an escalation in Sanchez’s pro-Palestine stance amid Israel’s continued offensive.

Along with Ireland, Spain has been among the most vocal European nations in calling for a two-state solution and recognising Palestine as a separate state.

Is the Borkum also transporting arms to Israel?

Madrid’s stance on Israeli-bound vessels has not come without political headache.

While the government says it has proof that the Marianne Danica was carrying explosives intended for the IDF, it believes similar allegations around the Borkum are baseless.

“I do not understand the controversy that has been caused,” Puente told reporters yesterday (16 May). “Creating controversy on absolutely false claims is serious amid the Palestine-Israel conflict, where so many innocent lives are at risk; playing with these feelings is, to me, deeply irresponsible.”

Puente is part of Spain’s Socialist Party (PSOE), which has held office in Spain under Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez since 2018. In October 2023, PSOE entered into a coalition government with Sumar, an alliance of leftist Spanish parties.

In a post on X, Puente accused Javier Sánchez Serna, political representative of Podemos (part of Sumar) in Murcia, of aggravating the situation by visiting the Port of Cartagena to investigate the Borkum.

Sumar officials and the Solidarity Network Against the Palestinian Occupation (RESCOP, by its Spanish initials), have alleged the Borkum is also carrying weapons to Israel’s Ashdod Port from Chennai. But Puente says it is carrying military supplies to the Czech Republic, not Israel.

“In this country, the vast majority of us are with the Palestinian cause, as is the Spanish government”, Puente added. “If a ship was carrying arms, and we had legitimate proof it was bound for Israel, nobody would have any doubt that the Spanish government would stop it.”

Spain’s Ministry of Transport had not responded to Ship Technology’s request for comment at the time of publication.