A Saudi cargo ship believed by Spanish arms control groups to be laden with European weapons has left the port of Santander and set sail for Genoa, Italy.

The Bahri Yanbu left the northern Spanish port on Monday after loading two containers, Alberto Estevez, of the Control Arms Coalition of human rights and aid groups which is trying to stop arms reaching conflict zones, told The Associated Press news agency.

A Spanish government spokesman said the ship took on cargo contracted from private companies that he said was not illegal nor contravened any international laws.

A company called Instalaza, from Zaragoza, sent weaponry for a trade exhibition in the United Arab Emirates and it will be returned to Spain, while another company sent ceremonial cannon to Saudi Arabia, the spokesman told AP.

A government source cited by Reuters news agency, meanwhile, said the two loads “comply with all the norms”.

“They are not for use in war,” the source added.

Countries are under pressure not to send arms to Saudi Arabia – the world’s largest arms importer from 2014 to 2018, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute – amid concerns they are being used by a pro-government Saudi-UAE-led military coalition against civilians in Yemen.

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