Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 22.01.2019
Two LPG carriers burned and sank in the Black Sea on January 21. A cargo ship sank in a storm on the Black Sea on January 7. The two incidents of shipwreck reveal that the Russian Federation is stealing natural gas from the continental shelf off of Crimea and stealing coal from the mines of Donbas. Stealing resources from Ukraine is one of the principal war aims of the Russian Federation’s invasion, which began five years ago: impoverishing the Ukrainian nation so that it will be perceived as a ‘failed state’ and enriching Muscovy so it can pursue wars of imperialist aggression.
The “Maestro” and the “Venice” were liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) carriers, sailing under a Tanzanian flag-of-convenience. Since 2016 at least, they had been involved in the illegal supply of gas to Syria. Illegally extracted gas from the Ukrainian shelf in the Black Sea was the source of some of the cargo, with the rest coming from other countries. This is according to the Ministry of the Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons of Ukraine.
On January 21, the two LPG carriers were about 15 nautical miles south of the Kerch Strait, in international waters of the Black Sea. They were side-by-side, believed to be trans-shipping their dangerous cargo. Both vessels had switched off their automatic identification systems. There was an explosion, the “Maestro” and the “Venice” caught fire, and both vessels sank. According to Kerch.FM (a media outlet from Russian-occupied Crimea, Ukraine), 14 people were killed and another five are missing.
The owner of the “Maestro” and the “Venice” is Milenyum Denizcilik Gemi, doing business in Istanbul, Turkey. That firm is liked to Wael Abdulkarim, who figures prominently in the Panama Papers. Milenyum Denizcilik Gemi was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury under its Syria designations on 3 August 2015. The Black Sea News lists both of the Milenyum Denizcilik Gemi-owned vessels as having made illegal entries to ports of the Russian-occupied territory of Crimea, Ukraine. These ports were closed by the Ukrainian government after the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine in February 2014.
On January 7, the coastal freighter “Volgo-Balt 214” was sailing from Azov, Russian Federation to Samsun, Turkey when it sank in a storm. Once flying the flag of the Russian Federation, the “Volgo-Balt 214” was sailing under a Panamanian flag-of-convenience. A large wave in rough seas broke the poorly-maintained vessel in two and it sank. Six people died of the crew of 13, including the captain.
The ship’s cargo was coal nominally from the Russian Federation. It was almost certainly carrying coal whose real origin was the mines of Donbas, being the parts of Luhansk and Donetsk regions in eastern Ukraine which the Russian Federation invaded and occupied in 2014. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine regularly observes trains leaving occupied Ukraine for the Russian Federation with rail cars loaded with coal.
The Russian Federation is a crime syndicate that launders stolen gas and stolen coal in a manner similar to they way it launders money. Gas is stolen from the Ukrainian shelf and coal is stolen from Donbas, Ukraine. These resources are then moved to Russian ports, where they are mixed with resources sourced from other countries. They are then moved by sea to Western markets for sale. The carriers are ships flying under flags of convenience whose beneficial owners are collaborators in sanctions-busting.
Crimea and Donbas are integral territories of Ukraine. Their resources and the resources of the Ukrainian shelf on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov belong to the Ukrainian people. The Russian Federation launched an unprovoked invasion and it now illegally occupies those places. Bandit Muscovy is stealing gas and coal. Shipwrecks in the Black Sea expose the criminality that is at the heart of Putin’s War against Ukraine and against the West.