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Zelenskyy urges Greek owners to stop moving Russian oil 

Greek shipowners have come under fire again from Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, for their continued shipments of Russian oil. 

Speaking via a video link from Kyiv to the 26th Annual Economist Government Roundtable held in Athens yesterday, Zelenskyy said: “We see Greek companies providing almost the largest tanker fleet for the transportation of Russian oil.” The Ukrainian president went on to add: “I am sure that this does not meet the interests of Europe, Greece or Ukraine. This is just one example of the need for even greater unity, so that Russia is forced to seek peaceful solutions.”

Splash has reported repeatedly on how Greek owners have been the number one mover of Russian crude in the 19 weeks since Russia invaded Ukraine. 

Speaking at the same Economist event yesterday, Evangelos Marinakis, chairman of Capital Maritime & Trading, one of Greece’s largest shipowners, defended his peers, arguing that it will take a long time for Europe to be able to wean itself off Russian energy, something that has been backed up by new data from Banchero Costa, which shows that Russia remained as the European Union’s top source of crude in the opening six months of 2022. 

Marinakis was one of a host of Greek owners who came out fighting their position on trade with Russia at a number of conferences held during Posidonia week last month. Marinakis told delegates at Capital Link’s event in Athens last month that sanctions penalised Europe more than they did Russia. He went further at the TradeWinds Shipowners Forum the following day, labelling sanctions as “bullshit”.

In further news linked to the ongoing war in Ukraine, the newly formed Donetsk People’s Republic has confiscated and taken control of two ships at the recently conquered port of Mariupol. 

The 16,000 dwt Smarta bulk carrier and the 5,245 dwt Blue Star I general cargo ship have both been appropriated with no compensation issued. 

More than 80 foreign-flagged ships remain stuck in Ukrainian ports, according to data from the International Maritime Organization.

Kyiv estimates around 400,000 tonnes of stolen grain has been exported by Russia since the war began

Meanwhile, much focus remains on the Russian general cargo ship, Zhibek Zholy, detained last week in Turkey at the behest of Kyiv over allegations it was carrying stolen Ukrainian grain. Turkish officials have said they are investigating the case, with the vessel remaining at anchor off the Turkish Black Sea port of Karasu this morning.

Israeli maritime artificial intelligence firm Windward has been looking into the Zhibek Zholy, and suggests it looks like Russia is getting more brazen in its efforts to shift Ukrainian grain around the world. Splash has reported repeatedly on Russian shipments of Ukrainian grain in the opening months of the war. 

“When compared to previous grain thefts and smuggling, the behavior in this incident is different and may show a bolder Russian strategy,” a new report from Windward states. 

Zhibek Zholy is currently owned by Ktz Epress Shipping and the beneficial owner is Ktz Express, a Kazakhstan-based company. GreenLine, a Russian company, assumed the operator role on February 24, 2022, the first day of the Russian invasion.

The vessel has a history of engaging in dark activities around countries with shared borders near the Caspian Sea including Iran, according to Windward. 

The vessel’s general method of operation since the war began appears to involve several dark activities occurring north of the Kerch Strait not far from the Russian port of Kavkaz. The dark activity, where it operates without its AIS switched on, usually lasts either six or 11 days. When the vessel comes back online, its draft increases, suggesting that it may have loaded cargo while its AIS transponder was turned off. The vessel then sails to Turkey, where its draft updates show a decrease, suggesting that it may have offloaded cargo while at port. 

Most of the Russian wheat smuggling has followed a pattern, according to Windward’s proprietary, AI-based data.

The usual method in confirmed cases – such as the Matros Koshka, Matros Pozynich, and Mikhail Nenashev ships – is dark activity between Turkish and Ukrainian waters, or dark activity starting and ending in Ukrainian waters near Crimea.

The vessel typically sails to Turkey and makes a port call, or sails to the Eastern Mediterranean and goes dark in Turkey or Cyprus to complete its journey to Syria, where it will offload while dark.

Vessels will frequently say their destination is Kavkaz, Russia, before going dark. They also say Beirut, Lebanon, is their destination when heading out of Russia, and then they go dark and go to Syria instead.

When the vessels are dark in Ukraine, they are often at the grain terminal at Sevastopol, according to open sources who confirmed this via satellite. Satellites also helped catch at least one at Latakia, Syria, offloading.

“This latest incident involving Zhibek Zholy is interesting, because it happened in the Sea of Azov, and in mainland Ukraine, not Crimea, where the other grain smuggling vessels have been spotted at Sevastopol. Russia seized Berdiansk in February. Is traveling to mainland Ukraine part of a brazen new grain smuggling strategy by Russia?” the report from Windward mused.

As well as the Zhibek Zholy, Ukraine has asked Turkey to help investigate the Matros Koshka, Matros Pozynich, and Mikhail Nenashev, Russian-flagged bulk carriers that have been moving Ukrainian wheat in recent months. 

Kyiv estimates around 400,000 tonnes of stolen grain have been exported by Russia since the war began, with Ukraine identifying 13 vessels involved in the trade thus far. 

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.

Comments

  1. I had a port call once in Ukraine. It was most corrupted port call. Everybody was asking for money. Every shipping company knows that and agrees payment with agent in advance.

  2. So anything Ukraine wants we just give them? How long of a list does Zelensky have ready?

  3. As a greek I’ve had enough of this troglodyte thinking he is running MY country. For how long are we goingt to keep doing US’s bidding because they want to destabilize our region? Who is Zelensky to think he can demand on how the whole world needs to act? His country is as corrupt as Russia and it o ly got worse since 2014, not better. Let Russia take their kin with them, why are we helping them and destroying our economy in the first place? Have we done this for anyone else? Why the special treatment?

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