OKTYABRSK PORT, Ukraine — On Jan. 5, the Ocean Fortune, a 380-foot-long workhorse of the global arms trade, left this Black Sea port with unknown cargo concealed in its cavernous hold. The ship steamed south, slipped through the Bosporus Strait and turned toward the eastern Mediterranean. Then it disappeared.
The ship’s transponder, which normally sends automated signals to other vessels and harbor masters along busy sea lanes, went mysteriously silent Jan. 9, just as it was rounding Turkey headed toward open waters, maritime records show. Not a trace of the ship was seen for two months, until it surfaced in the southeastern Mediterranean in mid-March.
The ship’s apparent vanishing act repeated a pattern seen by other freighters embarking from the same Black Sea port — a known point of origin for weapons shipments — over the past year. Recently, such behavior has begun drawing the attention of investigators tracking the flow of arms and supplies to the combatants in Syria’s 21 / 2-year-old uprising. Continue reading