A Russian merchant ship loaded with grain stolen in Ukraine has been turned away from at least one Mediterranean port and is now in the Syrian port of Latakia, according to maritime sources and Ukrainian officials.
CNN identified the vessel as the bulk carrier Matros Pozynich.
On April 27, the ship weighed anchor off Crimea and turned off its transponder. The following day, he was seen at the port of Sevastopol, Crimea’s main port, according to photographs and satellite images.
The Matros Pozynich is one of three vessels involved in the trade in stolen grain, according to open source research and Ukrainian officials.
Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, produces little wheat due to lack of irrigation. But the northern Ukrainian regions, occupied by Russian forces since early March, produce millions of tons of grain every year. Ukrainian officials say thousands of tonnes are now being trucked into Crimea.
Kateryna Yaresko, a reporter for the SeaKrime project of Ukrainian online publication Myrotvorets, told CNN the project noticed a sharp increase in grain exports from Sevastopol to around 100,000 tonnes in March and April.
From Sevastopol, according to satellite images and tracking data reviewed by CNN, the Matros Pozynich transited the Bosphorus Strait and headed for the Egyptian port of Alexandria. It was loaded with nearly 30,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat, according to Ukrainian officials.
But the Ukrainians had a head start. Officials say Egypt was warned that the grain had been stolen and the shipment had been turned back. The Matros Pozynich steamed towards the Lebanese capital of Beirut with the same result. The ship turned off its transponder again on May 5, but images from Tankertrackers.com and Maxar Technologies show it made it to the Syrian port of Latakia.
The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense estimates that at least 400,000 tonnes of grain have been stolen and taken out of Ukraine since the Russian invasion.
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