Ships linked to Russia’s biggest grain exporter moved stolen Ukrainian cargo

Vessels linked to Russia’s largest grain trader shipped thousands of tons of stolen Ukrainian grain to global buyers, using a sophisticated system of feeder vessels and floating cranes, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation.

The ships are linked either through their management or ownership to companies controlled by Russian businessman Peter Khudikin, who in turn owns RIF Trading House LLC, the country’s largest grain exporter and global exporter. is a major player in the grain markets, according to corporate and legal documents The Journal

The Journal has previously reported on large-scale grain and land theft in Russian-occupied Ukraine, detailing a complex system by which smugglers transported large quantities of stolen grain to newly occupied farms in eastern Ukraine. to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 01244.

Ship in port

The Eaubonne bulk carrier docked in the port of Mombasa, Kenya on Saturday, November 26, 2022. The ship arrived with 53,300 tonnes of wheat for commercial use in Kenya and was bought under the Black Sea Grains Initiative, an agreement to facilitate exports. Ukraine (AP Newsroom)

The next step in the smuggling process: moving stolen Ukrainian grain from Crimea to global buyers. According to the Journal’s investigation, a fleet of small ships, usually from the Crimean port of Sevastopol, carries the smuggled grain to larger cargo ships waiting at sea, where they are unloaded by crane-equipped ships. move. Those large ships then left for distant ports.

Such a sea transfer could mask the true origin of the ships’ cargo, if buyers suspected the grain came from Russian-held eastern Ukraine. The move allows large container ships, which can be easily identified in the harbor or from satellite images, to avoid calling at Sevastopol. Sometimes stolen Ukrainian grain is mixed with Russian grain, to further disguise the origin of the cargo.

“This is wheat laundering,” said Yurik Isak, head of Istanbul-based Bosphorus Observer, an independent ship-tracking consultancy firm. “They made it really hard to track.”

Grain unloading crane

Grain is unloaded from the bulk carrier Eaubonne after docking in the port of Mombasa, Kenya on Saturday, November 26, 2022. The vessel arrived with 53,300 tonnes of wheat for commercial use in Kenya and was purchased under the Black Sea Grain Initiative. (AP Newsroom)

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June 5: Vessel tracking data shows that the Emmakris II, a large bulk carrier, is arriving in the Black Sea, traveling from Saudi Arabia. The M Andrew, a small feeder ship, meanwhile, had been operating around the Straits of Kerch since the early days.

June 11: A few days later, the Petra II, a crane ship, is captured by satellite images sandwiched between the Amacris II and a different feeder ship. Ukrainian intelligence and maritime experts say it was carrying grain at sea.

June 14: Ship tracking data and satellite images show M. Andreev, Emmakris II and Petra II operating around the Kerch Strait. Ukrainian intelligence says M. Andrew was loaded with barley from Sevastopol.

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June 15: Ship tracking data showed the three ships within seven hours of each other. Here, according to maritime experts and Ukrainian intelligence, barley was loaded from M. Andrew. Satellite images then pick up the breakup of M. Andrews.

September 4: Emmakris II listed her intended port of call in Iraq after sailing through the Kerch Strait through the Bosphorus and the Suez Canal. He never recorded a port call.

Ukrainian officials and maritime and grain market analysts have identified Sevastopol as a key business for grain brought in by truck or rail from eastern Ukraine. According to Geneva-based researcher AgFlow, Sevastopol shipped about 848,400 tons of grains, such as wheat and barley, from the beginning of March to October, about 15 times more than the same period last year.

World leaders on stage

left to right; Prime Minister of the Republic of Lithuania Ingrid Simonetti, Prime Minister of Belgium Alexander de Croo, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskiy, President of Hungary Katalin Novak and Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki attended an event. (AP Newsroom)

In a similar sea transfer of cargo from the port this summer, a crane vessel managed and owned by companies linked to Mr Khodekin loaded a large cargo ship operated by the same companies. and owned them- near the Straits of Kerch with grain. A narrow waterway connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of ​​Azov, according to Ukrainian intelligence reports, satellite images, shipping data and maritime analysts.

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Mr Ask’s Bosphorus Observer helped identify some of the Kerch Strait smuggling vessels by combining verified photos and video with satellite imagery, using features such as the location of cranes and hatches on the vessels. The Initiative to Study Russian Piracy, a Washington-based group of researchers and former US officials funded by a Ukrainian industrial group, also provided ship tracking data and corporate documents. The data and documents have been verified by the journal.

Mr Khodekin could not be reached for comment. The RIF said it had nothing to do with Ukraine’s grain theft. “We value our reputation and comply with the legislation of the Russian Federation and all international laws,” the company said via email. RIF said it carefully checks the authenticity of all its cargo. Russian officials have also denied stealing Ukrainian grain.

RIF, based in the city of Rostov-on-Don on the Sea of ​​Azov, is Russia’s largest grain exporter, according to the country’s main grain trade body. According to Russian corporate documents as recently as April of this year, Mr Khodekin owns RIF.

From April to September, Sevastopol shipped 662,000 tons of grain, up from 36,000 tons a year earlier, according to AgFlow. According to ISRP researchers, companies controlled or benefited by Mr. Khodekan accounted for about a third of this year’s surplus exports. The estimate took into account ISRP-tracked bulk carriers, tugboats, cranes and other support vessels owned or operated by companies linked to Mr Khodikan that either delivered grain or assisted in delivery.

For example, on June 14, the Russian-flagged M. Andreev, a small feeder ship, approached the Kerch Strait, loaded with barley from Sevastopol, according to a Ukrainian intelligence document. Closer to the strait, it came alongside the Panamanian-flagged Emmakris II, which arrived earlier in the month, according to ship-tracking data from Spire Global.

According to Equasis, a shipping database, Emmakris II is being managed by Dubai-based MCF Shipping DMCC from 2020. It is listed as owned by an affiliate of MCF Shipping. MCF Shipping, in turn, shares the corporate website registrar and administrator with GTCS Trading DMCC, which a 2019 Moscow arbitration court document identified as beneficially owned by RIF’s Mr. Khodykin. . The company also goes by GTCS Trading JLT.

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MCF Shipping is located in the Dubai office building next to GTCS Trading. Employees of both companies say on their LinkedIn profiles that they work for both companies. A GTCS employee told the Journal by phone that the two companies are the same. According to a database that collects information on Russian companies, GTCS was also the majority owner of RIF until April this year, when ownership changed to Mr Khodykin.

On June 15, two ships, the Emmakris II and the M. Andreev, appeared in ship tracking positions near each other, with another ship with a mounted crane. The three vessels lay together for more than seven hours, according to ship tracking data and a Ukrainian intelligence document, which states that M.Andrew unloaded her cargo at that point.

According to the Equasis shipping database, the crane vessel, Petra II, is also managed by MCF Shipping, a Dubai-based company linked to Mr Khodekan. It is owned by an affiliate of MCF Shipping.

The flotilla was joined by two more feeder ships, this time coming from Russia. They moved alongside Emmakris II, according to Planet Labs PBC satellite images reviewed by the journal. Ukrainian officials say Russia mixes stolen Ukrainian grain with Russian grain to make it harder to trace.

According to Spire Global’s ship tracking data, Emmakris II then moved first into the Black Sea and then through the Bosphorus on July 10.

The ship then headed for the Persian Gulf, where its tracking transponder stopped transmitting, making it invisible to the ship’s trackers. When the plane reappeared on September 4, it listed its destination as Umm Qasr, Iraq. According to ship tracking data, the ship never recorded a port call in Iraq. His final destination on this journey could not be determined.

Since September, Emmakris II has made two more trips through the Black Sea to the Kerch Strait, according to ship-tracking data. On the first of these voyages the ship returned to the Persian Gulf. The ship left the Black Sea again in early November and transited the Suez Canal en route to the Red Sea.

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