Ukraine has requested that Turkish authorities detain a Russian-flagged ship carrying Ukrainian grain, the country’s ambassador to Turkey Vasyl Bodnar told CNN Saturday.
The Zhibek Zholy vessel is currently at anchor near the Turkish port of Karasu as “it was in fact detained by Turkish customs authorities and it is not allowed to enter the port,” Bondar said. “Now we are waiting for the decision of the relevant authorities of Turkey regarding the actions that the law enforcement agencies of Ukraine insist on,” he said.
The Turkish trade ministry has not yet responded to CNN’s request for confirmation that the ship has been detained.
Bodnar said Ukraine initially addressed the Turkish foreign ministry regarding the ship on Thursday, and on Friday the Ukrainian embassy in Turkey received an appeal from Ukrainian authorities “to ensure its detention and inspection.”
“Maybe, we will demand its arrest as well,” Bodnar said. “We have sent appeals to the Turkish authorities, have organized several communications with senior officials.” CNN has reached out to Turkey’s Foreign Ministry about Bodnar’s claim.
Ukraine has repeatedly said Russia has stolen hundreds of thousands of tons of grain since the start of the war.
According to the ship tracking website Marine Traffic, the cargo ship left the Russian port Novorossiysk on June 22 and spent nearly a week at sea between Ukraine and Russia.
The cargo ship turned its tracker on when it left the Sea of Azov for Karasu, Turkey, on June 29, and arrived at the Turkish port on Friday, according to Marine Traffic.
Although it’s possible the grain came from neighboring areas, Bodnar said the ship’s loading point was “definitely” Berdiansk — “occupied territory,” without elaborating on why he is certain of this. Bodnar added that he doesn’t have the name of the company or the district where grain was taken from.
Yevgeny Balitsky, the head of the Zaporizhzhia regional military administration, now partially under Russian control, said on Telegram Thursday the first merchant ship had left the Berdiansk port on the Azov sea, and reiterated claims by Russia that the waters surrounding the port have been de-mined by the engineering units of Russia’s Novorossiysk naval base.
Bodnar said Ukraine sent the second appeal to Turkey on Friday “when we had just learned that the ship was coming” after the initial appeal was made on Wednesday “when we received information from open sources that such a vessel was loading and apparently intended to enter the port.”
Friday’s appeal has “a legal” component and has been sent “to all authorities of Turkey responsible for making decisions,” he said.
According to Bodnar, Turkey’s Ministry of Trade responded to the initial appeal saying the ship will remain anchored near the port of Karasu without being allowed to be unloaded or go back, while Turkey evaluates Ukraine’s requests.
“I have an impression that the Russian side tried to set a precedent and tried to start transporting everything from the occupied ports — this is Berdiansk, it may be Mariupol,” Bodnar said.
“Moreover, this is probably one of the attempts to drive a wedge between Turkey and Ukraine. As well as an attempt to legalize its occupation of ports that belong to Ukraine.”
In response to media reports that Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office has submitted a request to Turkey to detain and arrest the cargo ship, the ship’s owner, the Kazakhstan national railway company Kazakhstan Temir Zholy (KTZ), said in a statement Saturday that “KTZ requested confirmation from the Ukrainian authorities regarding such request.
“Active consultations are underway with the ambassadors of both countries [Turkey and Ukraine],” the statement said.
“The seller, which is a company registered in Europe, insists that the transaction is legal. In order to clarify the situation and exclude violations of international law, KTZ sent a letter to the lessee of the vessel with a request to provide, as a matter of urgency, a detailed explanation of the situation and submission of all supporting documents (contracts, certificates, etc.),” the company said.
“KTZ assures of its commitment to compliance with international law,” it added.
Ukraine accuses Russia of blocking its ports and trying to “steal” Ukrainian grain. The United Nations has said Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian ports has already raised global food prices and threatens to cause a catastrophic food shortage in parts of the world.
Russia has repeatedly denied it is blocking the ports and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has called allegations Russia was stealing grain from its neighbor “fake news.”