According to the Russian government, the Russian military boarded a merchant ship over the weekend in the Black Sea, marking the first time Russia has fulfilled its promise to intercept such vessels in the waterway.
In the early hours of Sunday, its patrol ship Vasili Bykov spotted the ship, which was flying the flag of the western Pacific island nation of Palau, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Military bloggers and news organizations in Russia have released a video, verified by the New York Times, showing a military helicopter hovering at deck level near the starboard side of the Sugru Ogan. The cargo ship is owned and managed by a Turkish company, according to Equasys, a major shipping database.
The defense ministry said the patrol vessel opened fire, with automatic small arms fire, when the vessel initially failed to respond to a request to stop for an inspection of whether it was carrying prohibited goods. The ministry said it fired the warning shots in a post on the Telegram messaging app. Then a helicopter was sent to land the boarding team. The video showed eight people in civilian clothes, who appeared to be the ship’s crew, sitting cross-legged on the ship’s deck away from the helicopter.
According to a Times analysis, the ship in the video matches archived images of Sugru Ogan. According to the ship’s transponder data, the Sugru Ogan was traveling beyond Turkish territorial waters when Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had dispatched a helicopter to locate the ship and land on it.
Tensions have risen steadily since Moscow suspended a deal a month ago that allowed Ukraine to ship its grain and other food crops across the Black Sea, but analysts said it was the first time Russian naval vessels had boarded the ship. Since then, Russia has stepped up its attacks on port cities, particularly infrastructure, and has hit bases near the border with Romania, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Russia has said all ships operating in the Black Sea are seen as legitimate targets.
Ukraine on Monday condemned its decision to stop and search a vessel bound for Ukraine and said it threatened freedom of navigation in the Black Sea.
“Russia cannot block international shipping routes in the Black Sea, especially to Ukrainian ports,” Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said, a flagrant violation of international law.
The 1936 Montreux Convention covers the rights of belligerent naval vessels to regulate commercial traffic in the Black Sea in wartime, and it was not immediately clear whether the incident, which investigators said took place in international waters, violated international law.
Anton Troyanovsky Contributed report
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