How Russian ships are turning off trackers in the Black Sea to sell Ukraine’s stolen grain

An investigation by Lloyd’s List, the shipping industry publication, last month identified nine vessels involved in suspicious behavior consistent with grain smuggling: the Russian-flagged Matros Koshka, Matros Pozynich, Mikhail Nenashev, Nadezhda, Vera, Fedor, and Sormovsky 48, and the Syrian-flagged Finikia and Souria.

All are bulk carriers or general cargo carriers capable of shifting grain. All appeared to be sailing between Crimea and ports in Turkey and Syria, and all of them have been turning off their transponders in the Black Sea – a technically illegal but rarely sanctioned stunt more often associated with Iranian tankers trying to evade US oil sanctions.

The Matros Koshka’s recent voyages are typical.

It last vanished as it crossed the Black Sea on May 18. It reappeared on May 24 in a part of the Kerch Strait called the Kavkaz Anchorage, an area used by shipping headed to and from Russian ports on the Azov and eastern Black Sea.

It then sailed through the Bosporus, around Turkey, and on May 30, just off Cyprus, vanished again – only to reappear on June 8 about 60 nautical miles off Lebanon.

It sailed back to the Black Sea and vanished for the final time off the northern coast of Turkey. At the time of writing it has not reappeared.

Photographs obtained by SeaKrime, a Ukrainian activist group monitoring suspicious shipping, showed the vessel docked at a grain terminal in Sevastopol, the main port in Russian-occupied Crimea, while it was “blacked out” between May 19 and May 24.

Ukrainian officials say Sevastopol is the destination for grain stolen from the mainland.

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