First on CNN: Russian ship caught on satellite images moving stolen Ukrainian grain from Crimea to Syria

Tim Lister, Sanyo Fylyppov and Paul P. Murphy

A Russian merchant ship loaded with grain stolen in Ukraine has been turned away from at least one Mediterranean port and is now in the Syrian port of Latakia, according to shipping sources and Ukrainian officials.

CNN has identified the vessel as the bulk carrier Matros Pozynich.

On April 27, the ship weighed anchor off the coast of Crimea and turned off its transponder. The next day, it was seen at the port of Sevastopol, the main port in Crimea, according to photographs and satellite images.

The Matros Pozynich is one of three ships involved in the trade of stolen grain, according to open-source research and Ukrainian officials.

Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, produces little wheat because of a lack of irrigation. But the Ukrainian regions to its north, occupied by Russian forces since early March, produce millions of tons of grain every year. Ukrainian officials say thousands of tons are now being trucked into Crimea.

Kateryna Yaresko, a journalist with the SeaKrime project of the Ukrainian online publication Myrotvorets, told CNN the project had noticed a sharp increase in grain exports from Sevastopol to about 100,000 tons in both March and April.

From Sevastopol, according to satellite images and tracking data reviewed by CNN, the Matros Pozynich transited the Bosphorus strait and made its way to the Egyptian port of Alexandria. It was laden with nearly 30,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat, according to Ukrainian officials.

But the Ukrainians were one step ahead. Officials say Egypt was warned that the grain was stolen, and the shipment was turned away. The Matros Pozynich steamed toward the Lebanese capital of Beirut with the same result. The ship turned off its transponder again on May 5, but imagery from and Maxar Technologies shows it traveled to the Syrian port of Latakia.

The Ukrainian defense ministry estimates that at least 400,000 tons of grain has been stolen and taken out of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion.

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