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Handysize bulk carrier joins Russia’s grain plundering operation

Newly Russia-flagged Matros Shevchenko is displaying the same patterns as other vessels identified by government officials as participating in the export of stolen Ukrainian grain

The bulk carrier recently changed its name and flag and has shut off its Automatic Identification System while travelling in the direction of Crimea

A RUSSIA-flagged bulk carrier has turned off its automatic identification system in the Black Sea following a pattern commonly displayed by vessels involved in Russia’s grain plundering operations.

The 28,000 dwt handysize bulk carrier Matros Shevchenko (IMO: 9574195) — formerly Maria GS — was last recorded heading in the direction of Crimea at 0450 GMT on February 10.

There are two other handysize bulkers with “Matros” in their names, bulk carriers Matros Pozynich (IMO: 9573816) and Matros Koshka (IMO: 9550137).

Those vessels, and the 28,000 dwt Mikhail Nenashev (IMO: 9515539) were all identified by the US State Department last May for being involved in the plundering of Ukrainian cargoes.

The ships are operated by Astrakhan, Russia-based Crane Marine Contractor, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence ownership data.

The evidence suggests Crane Marine Contractor has acquired Matros Shevchenko, which changed its name and flag on January 29The new ownership cannot be confirmed in the current circumstances.

Crane Marine Contractor acquired the bulk of its fleet in the run-up to the war. Matros Koshka and Mikhail Nenashev were purchased in December 2021. Matros Pozynich was acquired on February 22, just two days before Russia launched its invasion.

“In 2022 we witnessed a sophisticated Russian government run smuggling operation that has used falsified manifests and seaborne subterfuge to steal and transport plundered Ukrainian grain,” says Yörük Işık, a geopolitical analyst from the Istanbul-based consultancy Bosphorus Observer.


“The operation was run professionally and at an amazing scale, resulting in hundreds of thousands conservatively, but more realistically millions of tonnes of Ukrainian grain being stolen from farmers and transported to ports and shipped to overseas customers.”

Matros Shevchenko was anchored in Nemrut Bay, Türkiye from January 24 to February 1. It then departed heading towards the Bosporus Strait, indicating Kavkaz as its destination. The most recent AIS position shows the vessel veering slightly towards Crimea.

This behaviour is similar to evasive sailing patterns exhibited by vessels suspected of being involved in the stealing and export of Ukrainian grain.

“The arrival of a new vessel tells us that Russia is getting ready for the 2023 harvest season and they will improve and speed up an operation that they already ran successfully in 2022,” says Mr Işık. “We need to continue to be vigilant and observe to identify the new arrivals so Ukraine can be compensated, and the parties involved can face international justice.”

Since the war broke out Crane Marine Contractor’s fleet have rarely made port calls on the radar.

There are 57 AIS gaps associated with the three vessels since March. These “dark” periods last on average 223 hours, which is approximately nine days. 

Matros Shevchenko, under its previous ownership, participated in the Black Sea Grain Initiative. It loaded 26,350 tonnes of corn in Chornomorsk which it delivered to Italy in early January.

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