When the bulk cargo ship Laodicea docked in Lebanon last summer, Ukrainian diplomats said the ship was carrying grain stolen by Russia and urged Lebanese officials to seize the ship.
Moscow called the accusation false and unfounded, and Lebanon’s attorney general sided with the Kremlin, declaring that the 10,000 tons of barley and wheat flour were not stolen and allowed the ship to unload.
But an investigation by the Associated Press and the PBS series Frontline has found that Syrian-owned Laodicea is part of a sophisticated Russian-led smuggling operation that has used false manifests and subterfuge by sea to steal at least $100 worth of Ukrainian grain. less USD 530 million in cash. that has helped fuel President Vladimir Putin’s war machine.
The AP used satellite imagery and data from marine radio transponders to track three dozen ships making more than 50 voyages carrying grain from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine to ports in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and other countries.
The ongoing robbery, which legal experts say is a potential war crime, is being carried out by wealthy businessmen and state-owned companies in Russia and Syria.
Meanwhile, the Russian military has attacked farms, grain silos and shipping facilities still under Ukrainian control with artillery and air strikes, destroying food and driving up prices.
The grain and flour carried by the 138-meter-long (453-foot) Laodicea likely began its journey in the southern Ukrainian city of Melitopol, which Russia seized in the early days of the war.
A video posted on social media on July 9 shows a train approaching the Melitopol Elevator, a huge grain storage facility, with green hopper cars marked with the name of the Russian company Agro-Fregat LLC with a logo on it. wheat spike shape.
Melitopol Mayor Ivan Fedorov told the AP that the occupiers are transporting large amounts of grain from the region on trains and trucks to ports in Russia and Crimea, a strategic Ukrainian peninsula that Russia has illegally occupied since 2014.
A satellite image from July 11 shows the Laodicea moored at a dock in Feodosia. The ship’s radio transponder was off. Two weeks later, when she arrived in the Lebanese port city of Tripoli, she claimed that she was transporting grain from a small Russian port across the Black Sea.
A copy of the ship’s manifests obtained by AP stated that its port of origin was Kavkaz, Russia. The carrier was listed as Agro-Fregat, the same name on the train cars in Melitopol. The buyer was Loyal Agro Co Ltd., a Turkey-based wholesale grocery store.
Agro-Fregat did not respond to emailed questions and a phone number listed on its website was out of service last week.
A Loyal Agro spokesman said the cargo on the ship came from Russia.
But the Laodicea could not have picked up its cargo at Kavkaz, the Russian port listed on the manifest. The ship’s hull, which reaches 8 meters (26 feet) below the surface, would run aground in the relatively shallow harbor, which has a maximum depth of 5.3 meters (17.5 feet).
The harbor in Feodosia is more than twice as deep and can easily accommodate the large ship.
Another company involved in grain smuggling is United Shipbuilding Corp., a Russian state defense contractor sanctioned by the United States for providing weapons to the Russian war effort.
The company, through its subsidiary Crane Marine Contractor, bought three cargo ships just weeks before Putin invaded Ukraine, in a move away from its core business providing heavy lift platforms for the oil and gas industry.
The three ships have made at least 17 voyages between Crimea and ports in Turkey and Syria.
When AP called Crane Marine Contractor, a receptionist responded by saying the name of the company. However, a man he transferred the call to insisted AP had the wrong number.
You’ve come to the wrong place, we don’t have that information, said the man, who declined to give his name.
During a typical voyage in mid-June, a 170-meter-long (560-foot) ship named the Mikhail Nenashev was caught on a satellite being loaded at the Russian-controlled Avlita Grain Terminal in Sevastopol, Crimea. The ship’s radio transponder was blacked out, a tactic often used by smugglers known as blackout.”
It arrived on June 25 in Drtyol, Turkey, and docked at a pier owned by MMK Metalurji, a steel producer.
MMK Metalurji is controlled by Viktor Rashnikov, a Russian billionaire close to Putin. Rashnikov and his company have been sanctioned by the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom.
In an email to AP, MMK said the grain came from Russia: The place where such cargo is loaded is PORT KAVKAZ.
As with Laodicea, Nenashev’s draft is too deep to dock in the port of Kavkaz.
Turkey helped broker a deal between Russia and Ukraine in July to allow both countries to export grain and fertilizer through secure corridors in the Black Sea. The agreement did not address the grain that Russia has taken from the occupied areas.
Although Turkish authorities vowed to stop illegal smuggling, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told a news conference in June that his country had not found any evidence of theft.
In our research on the ports of the ships and the origins of the goods, after the claims about Turkey, we saw that the records of origin were Russia, he said.
Whatever the records say, the smuggling operation continues.
Crane Marine Contractor’s Matros Koshka, named for a Russian sailor lauded as a national hero for his bravery during the 1854 Crimean War, sailed north last week to the Black Sea with a destination listed in Kavkaz before to turn off your transponder and stay in the dark.
Satellite images taken on Thursday showed the 161-meter-long (528-foot) ship had once again docked at the grain terminal in the occupied Ukrainian port of Sevastopol, just over a mile from a Soviet-era statue. in honor of its namesake.
(Only the headline and image in this report may have been modified by Business Standard staff; all other content is auto-generated from a syndicated source.)