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Ukraine Warns of Cargo of Stolen Grain Arriving in Lebanon

Grain awaiting export at Odesa (file image courtesy Charles Michel)
Grain awaiting export at Odesa (file image courtesy Charles Michel)

Published Aug 24, 2023 9:04 PM by The Maritime Executive

Since Russia occupied large swathes of eastern Ukraine last year, its forces have been accused of appropriating locally-grown grain and shipping it overseas for sale, particularly to its allies in Syria. On Thursday, Ukraine's embassy in Lebanon warned that a Syrian cargo ship would soon be arriving in Tripoli with a load of stolen Ukrainian corn, and asked for the Lebanese government to intervene. 

According to the embassy, 6,000 tonnes of corn aboard the Syrian cargo ship Finikia were taken from storage silos in Zaporizhzhia, Mykolaiv and Kherson, within the borders of Ukraine.

The embassy called on the Lebanese government to "not allow the entry of the aforementioned cargo ship Finikia to Lebanese ports to sell stolen Ukrainian grain." 

Finikia is owned by the Syrian government's transport agency, which has been sanctioned by the U.S. government for its role in the Syrian civil war. Finikia is also sanctioned itself, but Lebanon has not historically honored U.S. sanctions on Syria's vessels. 

This is not the first time that Ukraine has warned Lebanon of a stolen grain cargo, nor the first time that the transaction is linked to Syria. Syria's government is closely aligned with the Russian state, and last year, multiple vessels suspected of carrying stolen Ukrainian grain from Russia followed a regular pattern of turning off their AIS just outside of Syrian waters. 

In July 2022, Ukrainian officials alleged that the Syrian freighter Laodicea had arrived in Tripoli with a cargo of 10,000 tonnes of misappropriated Ukrainian grain. Ukrainian Ambassador to Lebanon Ehur Ostash met with Lebanon's president to ask for the Laodicea's cargo to be investigated. In return, Ostash noted that Ukraine had a large pent-up volume of wheat for export and could help satisfy Lebanese needs. 

Based on trade data, Reuters estimates that wheat exports from Crimea to Syria rose seventeenfold in 2022, supplying the Syrian government with 500,000 tonnes of the grain - at about the same time that Russia occupied Ukrainian wheat-producing regions. The administration of Russian-occupied Crimea claims that the exports came from a bumper crop of 1.4 million tonnes produced within the province, but Ukraine's agriculture ministry insists that the outsize "Crimean harvest" could only have come from recently-occupied areas to the north. 

The Syria-bound shipments, according to Reuters, have been carried by just three vessels: Finikia, Laodicea and the Souria, all Syrian-owned and U.S.-sanctioned.