The troubled car carrier Modern Express is carrying a controversial cargo of timber apparently destined for the French market, global environmental group Greenpeace claims.
The controversy surrounds the origin and legality of the timber which was bound for Le Havre, France.
The timber cargo is believed to be originating from countries that form part of the Congo Basin, a region where illegal logging is a widespread problem.
Gabonese authorities are reported to have investigated the case and have called upon Interpol to open an international investigation, Greenpeace said.
The forestry sector in the region is beset by rampant corruption, a lack of transparency and a lack of proper monitoring and law enforcement on the ground whilst significant amounts of illegal timber are still exported to international markets every year.
The European Timber Regulation (EUTR) prohibits the placing of illegal timber on the European market and requires that operators exercise due diligence to prevent the contamination of their supply chain. But both France and Spain have been slow in the implementation of this law, and authorities have so far failed to conduct sufficient and effective checks.
“Greenpeace urges both countries to take immediate steps, seize the timber and determine whether the operators involved acted in compliance with their obligations under the EUTR. In the case of non-compliance with the timber regulation, sanctions should be imposed,” the organisation said.
Greenpeace also urged the Gabonese government to start an immediate investigation and give the Spanish and French authorities full access to all the documents required to investigate this case.
The car carrier, loaded with 3600 tons of timber and construction machinery, ran into trouble on January 26 when it started listing some 240 km off Cape Ortegal, Galicia, in the Bay of Biscay. The ship was drifting for over a week due to inclement weather, after which it was finally towed away from the French coast and safely entered the port of Bilbao, Spain on February 3.
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