First Grain Ship To Depart Ukraine Is Offloading In Russia’s Ally Syria
Starting in late July and early August, the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni became the first grain vessel to leave a Ukrainian port since the Russian invasion began in February, and was laden with 26,000 tonnes of corn.
It never made it to its original listed destination of Lebanon. Instead, on Tuesday The Associated Press has revealed in a bit of an ironic twist: “The first shipment of grain to leave Ukraine under a wartime deal appears to have ended up in Syria — even as Damascus remains a close ally of Moscow, satellite images analyzed Tuesday by The Associated Press show.”
Within a week after the Razoni’s successful navigation of the Black Sea through a UN-administered ‘safety corridor’ overseen from a joint operations room in Istanbul, the vessel was left without a buyer, as the initial Lebanese purchaser refused delivery, explaining it was due to the five-month delay.
Both Ukraine’s government and the United States had hailed the Razoni’s departure as demonstrating the success of an agreed upon Ukraine-Russia-Turkey and UN mechanism to ensure that grain exports can resume despite the ongoing war and dangerous, mined Black Sea waters.
The US Embassy in Beirut had even posted a photograph of the grain vessel’s departure. Following this a senior Turkish official told Reuters that “The plan is for a ship to leave…every day.” And the official described of operations at three Ukrainian ports covered under the UN deal, “If nothing goes wrong, exports will be made via one ship a day for a while.”
But now perhaps something did go “wrong” from the perspective of the West, as the AP underscores of the latest development, “But its arrival in Syria’s port of Tartus shows how complicated and murky international trade and shipping can be. Syria has already received Ukrainian grain taken from Russian-occupied territory amid Moscow’s war on Kyiv.”
Satellite images posted by Planet Labs PBC appear to show the vessel at Tartus by Monday morning, next to the port’s grain silos. What’s more is that the vessel’s operators appear cognizant of the international sanctions currently in place on Syria and the Assad government, given the following:
Data from the Razoni’s Automatic Identification System tracker shows it had been turned off since Friday, when it was just off the coast of Cyprus, according to ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com. Ships are supposed to keep their AIS trackers on, but vessels wanting to hide their movements often turn theirs off. Those heading to Syrian ports routinely do so.
— Mete Sohtaoğlu (@metesohtaoglu) August 16, 2022
It’s as yet uncertain whether the Razoni had its ultimate destination set for Syria from the start. It also remains uncertain whether Russia had any involvement in designating Tartus as the offload point, though certainly this will raise suspicions in the West that it’s part of Kremlin efforts to siphon off Ukraine’s wheat exports.
Tue, 08/16/2022 – 10:10