Turkish customs authorities detained Zhibek Zholy, a Russian cargo ship carrying grain that Ukraine says is stolen, Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey said. Now, the Windward Predictive Intelligence platform has details and behavioral insights regarding the vessel in question and ownership companies.
he vessel’s general method of operation since the war began appears to involve several dark activities occurring north of the Kerch Strait (not far from Kavkaz Port, Russia). The dark activity usually lasts either six or 11 days. When the vessel comes back online, its draft increases, suggesting that it may have loaded cargo while its AIS transponder was turned off. The vessel then sails to Turkey, where its draft updates show a decrease, suggesting that it may have offloaded cargo while at port. and offloads (based on its draft updates). It has been doing this since March, 2022.
For instance, between March 11-22, the vessel engaged in dark activity in Russian waters, at the northern end of the Kerch Strait. After the dark activity ended, the vessel’s draft increased from 3.3 to 4.5. Then on March 27, it went to Ambarli port, Turkey, where its draft decreased from 4.5 to 3.3, suggesting it offloaded a significant amount of cargo.
Between April 7-13, the vessel conducted dark activity in Russian waters, again north of the Kerch Strait. After coming back online, the vessel updated its draft from 3.3 to 4.6, suggesting it likely loaded cargo while its AIS was off.
The vessel then updated its destination to Bandirma port, Turkey, which it reached on April 23. It updated its draft from 4.6 to 3.2 following its port call, suggesting that the vessel offloaded cargo at Bandirma Port, Turkey.
From June 11-13, the vessel conducted dark activity in Turkey, right outside of Gulluk Port. This DA is notable, as all of its other dark activities were in Russian waters and above the Kerch Strait. The vessel’s draft increased from 3.3 to 4.7, suggesting it loaded cargo while dark. On June 18, the vessel conducted a port call at Novorossiysk port, Russia, where its draft decreased from 4.5 to 3.7.
The vessel updated its destination to the port of Azov, Russia, on June 25. It then changed its destination to Ukraine, Berdiansk, and amere ten minutes later, the vessel changed its destination back to the port of Azov, Russia.
Approximately 30 minutes later, the vessel went dark in Russian waters, north of the Kerch Strait. The dark activity ended four days later on the 29th, in the same area of the Kerch Strait where the vessel usually turns its AIS back on. Notably, the vessel came back online on the Ukrainian side of the strait, which it had not done before. All of the other dark activities in Russian waters started and ended in the same area of the Russian EEZ.
The vessel’s draft update showed an increase from 3.4 to 4.7, indicating it loaded cargo. The vessel then updated its destination to the port of Karasu, Turkey, which it expected to reach on July 1. On June 30, the vessel arrived at the Turkish EEZ. It has been anchored since July 1.
This latest incident involving Zhibek Zholy is interesting, because it happened in the Sea of Azov, and in mainland Ukraine, not Crimea, where the other grain smuggling vessels have been spotted at Sevastopol. Russia seized Berdiansk in February. Is traveling to mainland Ukraine part of a brazen new grain smuggling strategy by Russia?