The Cameroonian-flagged ship is alleged to have been working for Russia to transport the Ukrainian grain to the Middle East.

The Cameroonian flagged-ship Usko Mfu is pictured off the coast of Ukraine [Handout/Office of Ukraine's Prosecutor General via Telegram]
The Cameroonian-flagged ship Usko Mfu is pictured off the coast of Ukraine [Handout/Office of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General via Telegram]

Ukraine has seized an international freighter it says was transporting stolen Ukrainian grain from Russian-occupied Crimea.

Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) said on Thursday that its forces stopped the vessel in the Black Sea near Ukraine’s Odesa region, seizing it and apprehending its captain.

The Cameroon-flagged vessel, Usko Mfu, had been working for Russia to export grain to the Middle East, the SBU said. It had repeatedly docked at the Crimean sea port of Sevastopol since last year to pick up several tonnes of the “looted” products, the statement said.

Sevastopol is an important military hub for Russia on the Black Sea.

To conceal its movements, the SBU said, the vessel regularly shut off its GPS tracker and logged false travel information.

Its captain, an Azerbaijani citizen, could face up to five years in prison for violating travel restrictions governing Ukraine’s Russian-occupied territories.

It is unclear if 12 other foreign crew members, who prosecutors said were also on board the vessel when it was seized, will face charges.

“The investigation is ongoing to establish all the circumstances of the crime and identify other persons involved in the illegal activity,” the SBU said.

Battle over resources

Russian forces occupied swaths of southern Ukraine’s agricultural regions in the first year of its 2022 invasion, and Kyiv has accused Russia of stealing and destroying its grain.

Ukraine also blames Russia for pulling out of a United Nations-brokered deal in 2023 that allowed Kyiv to safely transport its grain across the Black Sea, causing its food exports to plummet.

Ukraine has since opened new sea routes, often hugging the coast, to bypass Russia’s de facto blockade, bringing its grain exports back to near pre-war levels.

The European Union in May imposed “prohibitive” duties on grain imports from Russia in a bid to cut off revenues to Moscow for its war on Ukraine.

The bloc’s trade commissioner said the measure would “tackle illegal Russian exports of stolen Ukraine grain into EU markets”.