June 23 ------ Russia’s state-controlled TASS News Agency announced the departure of what it calls the first foreign ship to depart Mariupol as evidence of Russia’s efforts to reopen the port after the extended siege on the city. They are reporting that a second foreign vessel is also preparing to sail while Turkey’s Defense Ministry is also citing progress in its talks to restore grain shipments in the region after meeting with his Russian counterparts.
A Turkish-owned general cargo ship, the Azov Concord does appear to have departed Mariupol and successfully crossed the Sea of Azov to the Russian port of Novorossiky. The 8,975 DWT general cargo ship’s AIS data shows that it is now anchored at the southern Russian port after having been one of six foreign-flagged ships that TASS acknowledged had been stuck in Mariupol since the invasion in February.
The report carried by TASS quotes the captain of the ship, Ivan Babenkov, saying that his vessel had required repairs due to damage incurred during the siege of the city and now that the repairs were completed, he was sailing with a newly recruited crew. The vessel which is owned by Turkish interest and registered in Malta however may have been escorted across the Sea of Azov by Russian warships. TASS also indicated that the vessel was not carrying cargo when it left Mariupol.
The Bulgarian-owned bulk carrier Tzarevna is also reported by TASS to be preparing to depart Mariupol. The 21,470 dwt bulker which is also registered in Malta had also been stuck in the port since February. TASS reported that the vessel is currently completing paperwork and as soon as payment is received for the port services the vessel will depart.
The Turkish ministry also announced the departure of the Azov Concord saying that it was making progress in its talks to restart grain shipments. They called the talks in Moscow “constructive,” while Russian reports acknowledge the discussions cited no progress. “The parties discussed the safe exit of Turkish merchant ships and export of grain from Ukrainian ports, as well as the approaches to safe navigation in the Black Sea,” the Russians reported.
This comes as several western news sources repeated reports that Russia is looting and shipping grain from the occupied areas of Ukraine. CNN is citing a Ukraine government report that said an estimated 400,000 tons of grain has been stolen. The U.S. State Department issued an alert in May citing vessels it believed were smuggling stolen Ukrainian commodities and now Lloyd’s List Intelligence working with several sources published a list of nine vessels that are suspected of transporting stolen Ukrainian gain. Lloyd’s contends that many of the vessels are going dark to hide their actions.
At the end of May, TASS also reported efforts were underway to restore port operations at Mariupol. They said an initial cargo of 2,700 tons of Ukrainian steel would be shipped some 100 miles from Mariupol to the Russian port of Rostov-on-Don in a first an effort after the mines were cleared from the harbor. Besides the two ships reported by TASS as leaving Mariupol, they cited four other foreign ships that remain in the port. They included vessels registered in the Dominican Republic, Liberia, Panama, and Jamaica. There is no indication of the status of these ships.