Report: Russian-Backed Forces Seize Two More Foreign Ships at Mariupol
Russian-controlled separatist forces in Mariupol have seized two more foreign merchant vessels for their own use, according to Reuters.
The latest affected vessels include the Liberian-flagged bulker Smarta and the Panama-flagged coastal freighter Blue Star 1. The Smarta was last in the news in April, when Russian forces seized the port area in Mariupol and detained the vessel's Ukrainian crew.
Smarta Shipping, the owner of one of the Smarta, confirmed that it has recently been informed of the “forcible appropriation of movable property with forced conversion into state property" by the government of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DPR).
At least half a dozen commercial vessels were trapped at Mariupol when the Russian invasion began in February, and the region's new Russian-appointed government has already threatened to appropriate these ships for its own uses. These new tasks could potentially include the theft and export of steel from the destroyed Azovstal mill complex, an ongoing activity which Russian state-controlled media has confirmed.
The Italian-owned Tsarevna, part of the fleet of well-known shipowner Fratelli Cosulich, is among the vessels at Mariupol that the DPR has threatened to seize (or purchase at a knock-down price). In early June, Cosulich confirmed that it had been approached with a "blackmail" offer to buy the vessel at a "ridiculous value." Tsarevna was laden with 15,000 tonnes of Ukrainian-made steel slabs when the war broke out, and Cosulich told Italian outlet Il Giornale that "the news is that the Russians are taking everything, ship and cargo."
In addition to steel, Russian forces are also extracting grain from occupied Ukrainian territory with minimal or no compensation, according to the Ukrainian government. Petro Andriushchenko, adviser to the now-exiled Ukrainian mayor of Mariupol, said in a statement on July 4 that Russian occupiers were planning to route stolen grain through Mariupol's seaport.
"Our sources report on the scheme of exporting rolled metal and grain from Mariupol through Syria. Everything stolen by river-sea class small vessels will be taken to transshipment points (large cargo platforms equipped with cranes) anchored in 'neutral' waters off the coast of Kerch," Andriushchenko said (as translated by Ukrinform). "There, from these small ships, cargo is loaded onto larger ships bound for Syria."
Multiple independent investigations have tracked what appear to be shipments of Ukrainian grain from Russian-occupied ports to Syria, where the Russian-aligned government is already heavily sanctioned and faces few additional penalties for illicit activity. Turkey is also investigating at least one possible case of stolen Ukrainian grain shipped to a Turkish port aboard a Russian ship.