Ukraine Says It Seized Vessel That Had Ferried ‘Looted’ Grain

(Bloomberg) -- Ukraine has seized a cargo vessel that it claims has ferried “looted agricultural products” procured from its Russian-occupied territories, the first such action since Moscow’s invasion in 2022.

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The vessel, USKO MFU, sailing under a Cameroon flag, had entered and left Sevastopol port to collect agricultural goods, according to a statement on the website of Ukraine’s General Prosecutor. The nation officially stopped using that port after Russia occupied the peninsula in 2014 and it is sanctioned by the European Union and US. The ship’s captain has also been detained.

“The ship repeatedly docked at the seaport of Sevastopol to pick up looted agricultural products” in 2023 and 2024, Ukraine’s Security Services said in a statement on Thursday. The vessel was the first to be seized “since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale aggression,” the country’s top government prosecutor Andriy Kostin said in a statement on social media platform X. “Previously, such arrests were made only in absentia.”

Mehmet Fevzi Usta, an executive of Guha Insaat Mermer Madencilik, which owns the ship, said Ukraine forces boarded the ship as it passed the Sulina Canal and stopped it. He denied that the ship had ever called at the Crimean port. It had used various Russian ports in the past, he said.

Millions of tons of grains are produced in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, with some of those volumes being shipped to Russia or mixed in with Russian grain and sold on the world market. Ukrainian investigators and prosecutors have previously issued several arrest warrants for vessels that ship this grain.

The USKO MFU is a small and relatively old cargo vessel built in 1982, according to the Equasis marine database.

The vessel had switched off its GPS monitoring to conceal its trips to Sevastopol port, according to the Ukrainian Security Service. Usta, the executive from the Turkish company, also denied they ever turned off ship tracking.

The ship was seized in the Ukrainian port of Reni on the Danube, the statement from Ukraine’s General Prosecutor added.

--With assistance from Áine Quinn and Alex Longley.

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