But she said the vessel’s owners were ready to bring the ship back because it was proving impossible for Zimbabwe to receive the arms.
South African labor unions have been critical of President Thabo Mbeki for not taking a tougher line against Mr. Mugabe, who is locked in an election stalemate with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) over the delay of results from a March 29 election.
The elections are widely thought to have been won by the MDC.
The MDC says that 10 of its members have been killed by government militia and that the state has set up torture camps to punish those who voted for the opposition.
Mr. Mbeki has maintained that his policy of “quiet diplomacy” will eventually see a switch to democracy in Zimbabwe, where Mr. Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front has ruled since the end of white-minority rule in 1980.
Western countries, including the United States, have repeatedly called for tougher action from South Africa and have refused to recognize the outcome of elections in 2002 and 2005 that returned Mr. Mugabe to power, citing widespread reports of torture, violence and rigging.
The concerted action of southern African countries in turning back the An Yue Jiang is seen locally as a blow to South Africa’s soft approach.
But even within the ruling African National Congress (ANC), there has been a move to isolate Mr. Mbeki over the issue.
In Germany yesterday, ANC leader Jacob Zuma, who in December deposed Mr. Mbeki as head of the party, called for tougher action on Zimbabwe.
Speaking about the delay in releasing results from the March election, Mr. Zuma said the action was “not acceptable.”
“It’s not helping the Zimbabwean people who have gone out to elect the kind of party and presidential candidate they want, exercising their constitutional right,” Mr. Zuma told the Reuters news agency in Berlin.
“Leaders in Africa should really move in to unlock this logjam,” he said.
In Harare, Zimbabwean Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, defended his country’s right to “protect itself,” by purchasing weapons from any source.