Turkish customs seized the Russian-flagged ship last weekend Zhibek Zholy, which is anchored in the waters near the port of Karasu on the Turkish Black Sea coast. Turkish agents are investigating the origin of its cargo at the request of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office, which demanded its seizure on the grounds that the ship was transporting grain stolen from Ukraine and that it came from Berdyansk, an occupied port by Russia in southern Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Ambassador to Turkey, Vasily Bodnar, confirmed to EL PAÍS on Monday that the investigation into the ship is ongoing, although Turkish authorities have not yet reported the outcome of the investigation. A Turkish government source told Reuters that “the allegations are being thoroughly investigated” and that the country’s authorities are in contact with Russia, the United Nations and third parties.
Last week, Yevgeni Balitsky, a Russian occupation official in the Ukrainian region of Zaporizhia, said that after the war-related hiatus, “the first cargo ship” left the Ukrainian port of Berdyansk with grain destined for “friendly countries”, according to comments reported by the Russian agency TASS.
The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office identified the ship as the Zhibek Zholy, and asked the Turkish authorities to stop the cargo ship. Ukrainian sources estimate that Zhibek Zholy had loaded the first shipment of some 4,500 tonnes of Ukrainian grain from Berdyansk. According to the Turkish television channel Haber Global, this grain was to be shipped to the Turkish port of Karasu, then transported by trucks to Konya and other provinces of central Anatolia, which is home to many flour mills. Turkish media said the Zhibek Zholy did not receive the necessary permit to enter the port of Karasu, so it anchored one kilometer (0.62 miles) from the coast, where it remains.
It is not the first ship to transport grain and other agricultural products that were allegedly stolen from Ukraine to Turkish ports. The Ukrainian Embassy in Turkey estimates that about a quarter of the more than 400,000 tonnes of grain stolen by Russia from Ukraine ended up on Turkish territory. But this is the first time that Turkish authorities have acted on Ukraine’s request to seize a vessel.
“The case of Zhibek Zholy is very particular, because it is the first time that he comes with documents from an occupied territory to a Turkish port, which created the unique opportunity to arrest him and ask Turkey to seize the ship and confiscate its cargo,” Bodnar said. Unlike the Zhibek Zholyprevious ships carrying allegedly stolen grain arrived in Turkey with documents showing that the cargo was of Russian origin and were allowed to unload it.
The Ukrainian ambassador considers this a “manifestly illegal” attempt by Russia to use occupied Ukrainian ports and set a precedent. “This Ukrainian port is officially closed and according to Ukrainian law it is illegal to use it. Our information further indicates that the company was forced to load this stolen grain. So they illegally took that grain, illegally loaded it and illegally transported it,” Bodnar said. Turkey recognizes the territorial integrity of Ukraine (including the Crimean Peninsula, occupied by Russia since 2014) and its regulations prevent Turkish ports from accepting goods from the occupied territories.
The Zhibek Zholy is owned by a Kazakh company called KTZ, although it is leased by the Russian Green Line. The Kazakh company told Reuters it was holding talks with all parties to clarify the situation and would abide by all sanctions and restrictions.