Bangladesh blocks US-sanctioned Russian ship from docking

Ahammad Foyez
2022.12.29
Dhaka
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Bangladesh blocks US-sanctioned Russian ship from docking The Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant is seen under construction in Bangladesh’s northwestern Pabna district, Oct. 19, 2022.
Courtesy Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha

Bangladesh blocked a Russian ship from entering a local port just before Christmas due to U.S. sanctions on the vessel linked to Moscow’s war in Ukraine, but the cargo will be ferried to land via another ship, officials told BenarNews on Thursday.

The Ursa Major (also known as the Sparta III) was scheduled to dock at the port of Mongla in southwestern Bangladesh on Dec. 24 and unload cargo destined for the nation’s first nuclear power plant, which Russia is building, according to a source at the Bangladeshi foreign ministry.

But Bangladeshi authorities denied the ship permission to dock at the riverside port after officials got a letter from the American Embassy in Dhaka notifying the government that the Ursa Major was on a list of Russian ships sanctioned by the United States as a result of Moscow’s invasion and war in Ukraine.  

“The cargo from the vessel will be unloaded by another ship. The issue would create no difficulty in the project work,” Yeafesh Osman, the minister of science and technology, told BenarNews on Thursday.

“Russia has explained to us that they had wrongly sent the goods through the U.S.-sanctioned vessel,” he said.

It was not immediately clear what the ship was carrying for delivery to the nuclear plant under construction in Pabna, a northwestern district.

Speaking to reporters in Dhaka on Thursday, State Minister for Shipping Khalid Mahmud Chowdhury said, “We were not aware of the American sanctions on the vessel. Now we are taking the necessary steps.”

The latest GPS coordinates for the ship show it off the coast of southwestern Bangladesh on Thursday, according to information from MarineTraffic, a global ship-tracking website. It said that the Ursa Major was a general Russian cargo ship, which had set sail from St. Petersburg on Nov. 14. 

Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to BenarNews requests for comment, while the Russian Embassy declined comment.

Farhad Kamal, a Bangladeshi spokesperson for Rosatom, the Russian state-run nuclear energy company that is building the plant, acknowledged that the shipment destined for the Rooppur project had been blocked at the port. But he indicated that the Russian embassy and the concerned ministry were working to resolve the issue. 

An official at the foreign ministry, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the ship had been due to arrive at the Mongla port on Christmas Eve with a cargo of goods destined for the Rooppur plant.

“The U.S. Embassy informed us that although the vessel coming towards Bangladesh is named Ursa Major, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) certificate number matches the Sparta III. Then Bangladesh took the initiative to stop the entry of the ship into our territory,” the official told BenarNews.

ship-location.JPG
The Russian-flagged Ursa Major (Sparta III) was tracked off southwestern Bangladesh at 11:12 a.m. (local time) on Dec. 29, 2022. [MarineTraffic via Google Maps]

The ministry official said that the letter from the embassy stipulated that unloading goods from an embargoed vessel and providing fuel or any kind of support to its crew would increase the risks of sanctions or financial penalties. He added that the Russian government was unhappy after Bangladesh refused to allow the ship to come in.

“The Russian Embassy in Dhaka sent two letters to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Dec. 20 and 22 requesting to allow the vessel to enter Bangladesh,” the official said.

Md. Khurshed Alam, the foreign secretary for Maritime Affairs, summoned Russian ambassador Alexander V. Mantitsky on Thursday to tell him that Bangladesh would not allow the sanctioned ship into its territory, according to the official.

Bangladesh’s decision to block the Russian ship’s entry appears to mark the first time that Dhaka has taken any direct action against Moscow since President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine in late February.

In early March, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina pledged that her country would keep doing business with Russia and carry on with its plans for constructing the nuclear power plant, which will cost about U.S. $13 billion, despite international sanctions against Moscow. 

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