Russian vessel under US sanction carries cargo for Rooppur power plant

A Russian vessel at the Mongla portUNB file photo

Russia tried to deliver a consignment of products for the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant on a ship which is under US sanction. However, Bangladesh did not allow the ship to anchor in the port in fear of potential risks despite pressure from Russia to unload the products.

Relevant sources say a vessel ‘URSA MAJOR’, bearing the Russian flag, was supposed to reach Mongla port with cargo for the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant on 24 December.

However, on 20 December, the US informed Bangladesh that the vessel carrying the goods is not 'URSA MAJOR'. Rather, it is a ship named ‘Sparta 3’, which is under US embargo. After confirming that the colour and the name of the vessel carrying the Rooppur consignment have been altered, Bangladesh barred it from anchoring in the port.

Speaking to Prothom Alo on Sunday, the foreign ministry officials said after learning that Russia was sending products to Rooppur Power Plant on a ship under US sanctions, Bangladesh informed them that it won’t allow that ship to enter the port. Following that, Russia expressed discontent over the matter in a diplomatic letter to Bangladesh.

On condition of anonymity, a top-ranked government official told this correspondent that Bangladesh wouldn’t allow the ship to enter its territory as it is under the US embargo. Russia has started diplomatic efforts after the local agent was asked to unload the products in small vessels to bring them to Bangladesh.

According to diplomatic sources, Russian ambassador to Bangladesh, Aleksandr Mantytsky was summoned to the office of foreign secretary (Maritime Affairs Unit) Md Khurshed Alam on Thursday. The Russian ambassador was told that it was the duty of the local agent to transport the cargo unhindered. In that case, the problem should be resolved by Russia. Bangladesh will not allow that vessel to enter the port.

On the same day, a meeting was held chaired by science and technology minister Yeafesh Osman. Representatives of Russia were also at the meeting where they were told that the ship will not be allowed to enter Bangladesh.

The new ‘cold war’ between Moscow and Washington, which emerged after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has created an impact on Bangladesh in recent times. The statements of the West, including the US, regarding the human rights situation in Bangladesh and the national election and the counter statement from Russia against the West in this regard have already drawn wide discussions. Amidst these discussions, the information surfaced that the Rooppur Power Plant cargo was loaded on a vessel under US sanction after changing its colour and name.

How the information emerged

It has been learnt from the diplomatic sources that the vessel named URSA MAJOR, carrying the cargo of Rooppur Power Plant, first unloaded some products at the port of Cochin in Kerala of India. After that, it started out for Mongla port.

In the meantime, the US Embassy in Dhaka in a letter to the foreign ministry said that the actual name of the ship is ‘Sparta 3’. Although the name and colour of the ship has been changed, its IMO (International Marine Organisation) certificate number matches the IMO number of ‘Sparta 3’.

That diplomatic letter further stated that unloading products from that ship and providing fuel or any sort of assistance to the sailors of that ship might possess a risk of being fallen under the US sanctions or large financial penalties.

According to relevant sources, after being confirmed about the information provided by the US, the foreign ministry informed the Ministry of Shipping about this. Based on this, the Mongla port authorities said the ship would not be allowed to dock. Following the strict stance of Bangladesh in this regard, the Russian Embassy in Dhaka started contacting the foreign ministry. The two sides exchanged letters and held discussions over this issue.

The Russian Embassy in Dhaka issued two letters to the foreign ministry on 20 and 22 December. In both letters, Russia requested to allow the ship to enter Bangladesh.

However, the foreign ministry officials are saying that Russia used aggressive language in the letter issued on 22 December. Russia mentioned in the letter that barring that ship from entering the country might create a negative impact on the bilateral relations between the two countries.

Asked about this, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen on Wednesday told Prothom Alo, “This issue falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Science and Technology. Therefore, there is no use asking me questions regarding this. You better ask the science and technology minister.”

Following that, this correspondent tried to contact science and technology minister Yeafesh Osman over the phone for his comment. However, he didn’t respond.

Meanwhile, the current location of that Russian ship carrying the products of Rooppur Power Plant couldn’t be confirmed by the sources in Bangladesh. However, it has been learnt from one of the sources that the ship was leaving the Bay of Bengal.

*This report appeared on the online version of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu