Ships linked to Russia’s biggest grain exporter moved stolen Ukrainian cargo

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A Wall Street Journal study found that vessels affiliated with Russia’s largest grain trader are using a sophisticated system of feeder vessels and floating cranes to transport thousands of tons of stolen Ukrainian grain around the world. shipped to the buyer.

Either control or ownership of the ship is tied to a company controlled by Russian businessman Peter Hoddkin.Journal.

The WSJ has previously reported widespread theft of grain and land in Russia-occupied Ukraine, with smugglers looting large quantities from newly occupied farms in eastern Ukraine into Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. Details of an intricate system for secretly trucking out stolen grain have been revealed.

Orbonne bulk carrier docked at Port Mombasa, Kenya, Saturday, November 26, 2022. The vessel arrived with her 53,300 tonnes of wheat for commercial use in Kenya, procured under the Black Sea Grain Initiative.Ukraine (AP Newsroom)

The next step in the smuggling process: moving stolen Ukrainian grain from Crimea to buyers around the world. A WSJ study found that small fleets typically carrying grain smuggled from the Crimean port of Sevastopol to large freighters waiting at sea are transferring cargo with the help of ships equipped with cranes. . Those large ships then set sail for distant ports.

Such sea shipments can mask the true origin of the ship’s cargo, and buyers may avoid it if grain is suspected to have come from Russia-occupied eastern Ukraine. Large container ships, which are easily recognizable from sea and satellite images, can avoid calling at Sevastopol. Sometimes stolen Ukrainian grain is mixed with Russian grain to further disguise the cargo’s origin.

“This is a wheat wash,” said Jörg Isik, head of Bosphorus Observer, an independent ship-tracking consultancy based in Istanbul. “They made tracking very difficult.”

crane unloading grain

Grain was unloaded from the Orbonne bulk carrier vessel after docking at the port of Mombasa, Kenya on Saturday, November 26, 2022. The vessel, for commercial use in Kenya, she arrived with 53,300 tons of wheat, procured under the Black Sea Grains Initiative. (AP Newsroom)

June 5th: Vessel tracking data shows that the large bulk carrier Emacris II has arrived in the Black Sea after sailing from Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, a small feeder vessel, M. Andreev, had been operating a few days earlier around the Kerch Strait.

June 11th: A few days later, the crane vessel Petra II was caught on satellite imagery sandwiched between Emmacris II and another feeder vessel. Ukrainian intelligence and maritime experts say they were loading grain at sea.

June 14th: Vessel tracking data and satellite imagery show M. Andreev, Emmakris II and Petra II operating near the Kerch Strait. According to Ukrainian intelligence, M. Andreev was loading barley from Sevastopol.

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June 15th: Vessel tracking data showed the three vessels lining up with each other for seven hours. Here barley was loaded from M. Andreev, according to maritime experts and Ukrainian intelligence. Satellite images capture the split of M. Andreev.

September 4: Emaklis II lists destination ports in Iraq after sailing from the Kerch Strait through the Bosporus and Suez Canal. I never recorded port calls.

Ukrainian authorities and maritime and grain market analysts have identified Sevastopol as an important transit point for stolen grain brought in by truck and rail from eastern Ukraine. According to Geneva-based researcher AgFlow, Sevastopol shipped about 848,400 tons of cereals such as wheat and barley from early March to October.

world leader on stage

From left to right; Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania Ingrid Simonayt; Prime Minister of Belgium Alexandre de Cruz; President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky; President of Hungary Katalin Novak; Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki (AP Newsroom)

In a sea transfer of cargo from the port this summer, a crane vessel controlled and owned by a company associated with Mr. Hoddkin loaded a large cargo vessel controlled and owned by the same company with grain near the Kerch Strait. , according to Ukrainian intelligence reports, satellite imagery, ship data and maritime analysts, a narrow waterway connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Azov.

Isik’s Bosphorus Observer identified some of the ships involved in Kerch Strait smuggling by matching verified photos and videos with satellite imagery using features such as the ship’s crane and hatch placements. It helped me to The Initiative for Research into Russian Piracy, a group of Washington-based researchers and former US officials funded by Ukrainian industry groups, also provided vessel tracking data and corporate documents. . The data and documents were corroborated by journals.

Mr. Hoddkin could not be reached for comment. RIF said it had nothing to do with the grain theft in Ukraine. “We value our reputation and comply with the laws of the Russian Federation and all international regulations,” the company said in an email.RIF said it carefully checks the origin of all shipments. Russian authorities have also denied the theft of Ukrainian grain.

Based in the city of Rostov-on-Don on the Sea of ​​Azov, RIF is Russia’s largest grain exporter, according to Russia’s main grain trade organization. Hodkin is the owner of his RIF, according to Russian company documents issued in April this year.

According to AgFlow, from April to September Sevastopol shipped 662,000 tons of grain. Companies controlled or profited by Mr Hodgkin were responsible for about a third of this year’s excess exports, according to ISRP researchers. The estimate takes into account ISRP-tracked bulk carriers, tugs, cranes and other auxiliary vessels owned or controlled by companies associated with Mr. Hodgkin that deliver grain or assist with transshipments.

For example, on June 14, according to Ukrainian intelligence documents, the Russian-flagged small feeder vessel M. Andreev arrived near the Kerch Strait with barley from Sevastopol. Near the Channel, it came alongside the Panamanian-flagged Emmakris II, which arrived earlier this month, according to Spire Global’s vessel tracking data.

Emmakris II has been managed by Dubai-based MCF Shipping DMCC since 2020, according to ship database Equasis. Listed as owned by an affiliate of MCF Shipping. Meanwhile, MCF Shipping was identified in 2019 Moscow Arbitration Court documents as being substantially owned by his Mr Khodykin of RIF, another Dubai company he called GTCS Trading DMCC. We share corporate website registrants and administrators. The company is also operated by GTCS Trading JLT.

MCF Shipping is located in an office building in Dubai next to GTCS Trading. Employees of both companies said in their LinkedIn profiles that they work for both companies. One of his GTCS employees contacted by the WSJ by phone said the two companies are the same. Until April of this year, he was also the majority owner of RIF, according to a database aggregating information on Russian companies.

On June 15, both ships, Emmakris II and M. Andreev, appeared alongside another vessel with cranes at a side-by-side vessel tracking site. According to ship tracking data and Ukrainian intelligence documents, the three ships huddled together for over seven hours, at which point M. Andreev unloaded grain.

The crane vessel Petra II is also managed by Dubai-based MCF Shipping, which has ties to Hoddikin, according to the Equasys shipping database. Owned by an affiliate of MCF Shipping.

The fleet was joined by two more feeder vessels, this time from Russia. According to Planet Labs PBC satellite imagery reviewed by the WSJ, they were anchored next to Emmakris II. Ukrainian officials say Russia is mixing Russian grain with stolen Ukrainian grain to make it harder to track.

Emmakris II then entered the Black Sea first, transiting the Bosphorus on 10 July, according to Spire Global vessel tracking data.

The ship then sailed to the Persian Gulf, where the tracking transponder stopped transmitting, making it invisible to the ship’s pursuers. When the ship reappeared on her September 4th, its destination was listed as Umm Qasr, Iraq. However, according to vessel tracking data, the vessel never recorded her visit to Iraq. The final destination of her voyage could not be determined.

Vessel tracking data show Emakris II has made two more voyages from the Black Sea to the Kerch Strait since September. Her ship returned to the Persian Gulf on her first voyage. She left the Black Sea again in early November, passing through the Suez Canal on her way to the Red Sea.

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