WARSAW, AUG. 17 -- An Iraqi cargo ship that is believed to be somewhere in the Red Sea is attempting to reach Iraq with 50 Polish-made armored personnel carriers and other military equipment.
The ship, apparently the final installment in what had been a long and lucrative Polish arms trade with Baghdad, sailed from the Polish port of Gdynia just two hours before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
A Polish shipping agency in Gdynia said the ship, the Balques, passed through the Suez Canal on Thursday.
"The ship is of course out of reach for us. There is nothing we can do," Jan Majewski, the vice minister of foreign affairs, said this week.
The Polish government has strongly condemned the invasion of Kuwait and vowed to honor the U.N. trade embargo against Iraq, despite the expected severe impact on oil supplies in this country.
After a one-third cutback earlier this year in Soviet oil deliveries to Poland, Iraq had become this country's most important supplier of crude. Most of the Iraqi oil was payment for previous arms sales.
Citing shipping documents, the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza reported today that the Iraqi ship was also carrying diesel engines for tanks. In addition to the Polish-made equipment, the ship was reported to be hauling 17 East German-made portable bridges for tanks.
During the Iraq-Iran war, Poland was a major arms supplier to Baghdad, with annual sales of up to $300 million. Saddam Hussein's government still owes Poland about $500 million for those weapons and related equipment, a debt that the Polish government this year contracted to be paid off in oil. Only about one-quarter of the 1 million tons of crude due under contract has arrived in Polish ports.
The trade embargo leaves Poland, already struggling to survive its "shock therapy" free-market reforms, with a potentially disastrous shortfall of gasoline and diesel fuel.
The Polish News Agency reported Thursday that the Polish ambassador in Washington, Kazimierz Dziewanowski, this week asked senior officials in the White House and State Department for help with the oil shortfall.
According to the Polish News Agency, the ambassador was assured that the "U.S government considers it a crucial issue to find a way out of the problems with oil supply in Poland."