Ukraine Seizes Cargo Ship, Detains Captain for Looting Grain from Crimea

1 day ago 2

Ukraine reports it has seized a Turkish-owned cargo ship and is detaining its captain on charges that the vessel was used by the Russians to loot Ukraine grain stored in occupied Crimea. According to a statement from the State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the vessel and its crew were executing orders from the Russian Federation to remove the Ukrainian grain and sell it for the benefit of Russia.

The captain of the vessel, only identified as an Azerbaijan citizen was reported by the SBU to be under detention while the case continues to be investigated. He is facing charges of entering Crimea which is a closed area and could face up to five years in prison.

The vessel involved is a shadowy general cargo ship with a long history of issues. Built in 1982, the ship now named Usko Mfu is registered in Cameroon, but during its years in service, it has also been registered in Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, St Vincent and Grenadines, and Croatia. The ship is 308 feet (94 meters) in length and 2,850 dwt.

The Equasis database reflects that the vessel has undergone more than 40 Port State inspections since 1999 and only twice was it not cited for violations. Most recently, Turkey listed 19 violations in January while previously Romania in July 2023 also cited it for 19 violations. The reports from Ukraine said there are 12 crewmembers aboard, although they did not identify their nationalities or if they might also face prosecution.

The Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine reports the vessel had turned on its AIS signal and reflected that it was bound for Moldova on July 2. While it was sailing near the port of Reni on the Danube, the Ukrainian Navy intercepted the ship. Acting on a court order, the ship was arrested and it has now been towed to the Odesa area. Ukrainian officials were reportedly surprised based on the ship’s history that it would have dared to enter the Danube.

Teams boarded the ship and searched the computers and paper records as well as the AIS transmitter. The SBU contends the vessel “repeatedly moored at the seaport of Sevastopol to retrieve looted agricultural product.” They contend it was then transported to the Middle East where it was sold and the money given to the Russians.

The Prosecutor General supplied more specifics saying according to its investigation in November 2023 the ship entered and left Sevastopol with more than 3,000 tons of agricultural products intended for a Turkish company. To hide its activity the vessel turned off its AIS transmissions. At the end of May 2024, they report the ship returned to Sevastopol where it unloaded cargo from Turkey. The AIS signal was again turned off. 

During the search of the ship’s documentation, AIS system, and computer, they report finding documents issued by the occupation administration of the Sevastopol Sea Trade Port. The SBU is also saying that they found evidence that the captain entered “unreliable information” about the ship’s route and docking into the systems and logs. 

The investigation is ongoing while Ukraine also decides how to detain the ship and the captain. Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of stealing grain and other materials from the occupied areas but this is the first time they have been able to detain a vessel. Reuters is quoting the head of the prosecutor’s office as saying 21 ships have been cited with arrests issued in absentia for being involved in the illegal grain trade.

Read Entire Article