Ship that Ukraine alleges has stolen grain likely off Syria
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the Russian-flagged cargo ship SV Konstantin, the red vessel the furtherest left, off the port in Tartus, Syria, Wednesday, August 17, 2022. The Konstantin, that Ukraine alleges holds stolen grain from territory seized by Moscow amid the war there, appears to have reached the Syrian port of Tartus, satellite images analyzed Thursday by The Associated Press show. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A Russian cargo ship that Ukraine alleges holds stolen grain from territory seized by Moscow appears to have reached the Syrian port of Tartus, according to satellite images analysed Thursday by The Associated Press.

The arrival of the SV Konstantin marks just the latest shipment of Ukrainian grain — whether legally purchased or allegedly looted — to reach Syria. Another, the Razoni, recently docked full of legally purchased Ukrainian corn as part of a United Nations-led effort to get the country’s food out of the war zone to a hungry world.

The Konstantin’s arrival also shows the level Damascus has relied on Russia to keep its embattled President Bashar Assad in power amid his own nation’s yearslong war, particularly at this Mediterranean Sea port that hosts Russian warships and has crucial Russian-run grain silos.

The Konstantin travelled from the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea from around July 6, according to ship-tracking data from analysed by the AP.

The ship had loaded Ukrainian grain at Sevastopol, said Ihor Ostash, Ukraine’s ambassador to Lebanon, during an interview with Espreso TV. That port city in Crimea has seen Russian forces previously bring grain by truck from occupied territories, Ukrainian officials say.

The Konstantin travelled through the Bosphorus and reached the Turkish city of Izmir on the Aegean Sea. The ship then headed into the Mediterranean along the coast of Cyprus before switching off its Automatic Identification System tracker on Sunday. Ships are supposed to keep their AIS trackers on, but vessels wanting to hide their movements often turn theirs off. Those heading to Syrian ports routinely do so.

Satellite images from Planet Labs PBC analyzed by the AP show the Konstantin off the coast of Tartus on Tuesday and Wednesday. The vessel’s length, width and appearance resembles previous Planet Labs images of the ship taken at a time corresponding to when its AIS tracker was still on north of Cyprus.

Yoruk Isik, a non-resident scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute who monitors shipping through the Bosphorus, has been tracking the Konstantin. He and other open-source intelligence analysts first said they believed the vessel to be off Tartus as well, based on the satellite photos.

Officials at Tartus port could not be reached for comment. Syria’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.

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