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Docking in the dark — Sanctioned Russian ship drops anchor at Simon’s Town Naval Base

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    Nat Quinn

    A Russian cargo ship, sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control since the war in Ukraine, docked between 8 and 10pm on Tuesday, while the town was under the cover of rolling blackout darkness. It is unclear what the reason for the docking was, although some claim the vessel had been in distress.

    Residents of Simons Town in Cape Town awoke to an unexpected guest on Wednesday morning — a Russian Ro-Ro (roll-on/roll-off) cargo ship by the name of Lady R. The ship reported docked at Simons Town Naval Base on Tuesday night.

    According to a former South African Navy (SAN) admiral, who wished to remain anonymous, it is not normal for a commercial vessel to dock in a navy port — let alone in the dead of night. The former SAN admiral said the ship docked during rolling blackouts. Lady R is a Ro-Ro cargo ship built in 2004, currently sailing under Russia’s flag.

    'Lady R', Simon's Town
    Russian Ro Ro cargo ship, ‘Lady R’ docked inside Simon’s Town Naval Base. (Photo: Tony Kiley)

    Curiously, Lady R’s automatic identification system (AIS) — the tracking system capable of providing position, identification and other information about ships to other vessels and coastal authorities — was also offline. According to the ship monitoring services, Marine Traffic and Vessel Finder, the ship’s last-known position was recorded at 2:41pm SAST on Monday, 5 December 2022, south of Agulhas.

    According to the information recorded on Monday on Vessel Finder, Lady R is en route to the port of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and is expected to arrive there on 8 December at 4pm.

    That Lady R’s AIS appears to have been switched off, DA Shadow Minister of Defence Kobus Marais told Daily Maverick, “is most certainly concerning, because all commercial vessels AIS should be on at all times.”

    Marais said the information he had received was that Lady R was a vessel in distress and was escorted to Simonstown as the nearest port.

    Simon's Town Naval Base
    ‘Lady R’ docked inside Simon’s Town Naval Base. (Photo: Tony Kiley)


    “This apparently was in terms of international obligations on the South African Navy to assist any vessel going around the Cape,” he said.

    “I suspect what will happen is — depending on the evaluation of the vessel — they will either tow the vessel to Table Bay, or repair it and it will be on its way again,” said Marais.

    Marias said he did not know what Lady R’s cargo was.

    In response to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the United States has, over the past months, placed sanctions on dozens of Russian vessels and shipping companies. Lady R is among those sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac). The company with which the ship is linked – Transmorflot – is also sanctioned.


    “The problem that it is on the sanction list of the US… that’s probably one of the reasons why her AIS was switched off; to make sure it couldn’t be tracked. However, unfortunately, in South Africa, there is no sanction on any Russian vessel and that could be one of the reasons why it was taken to Simon’s Town and not Table Bay; because in Table Bay it would attract a lot of attention”, Marais said.

    'Lady R', Simon's Town
    ‘Lady R’ (left) docked inside Simon’s Town Naval Base. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

    Daily Maverick sent questions to South African National Defence Force (SANDF) head of communications, Siphiwe Dlamini but had yet to receive a response by time of publication. Daily Maverick also sent queries to the South African Navy but had not received a response. Cornelius Monama — spokesperson for Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Thandi Modise — referred us to SANDF’s Dlamini.  DM

    This is a developing story.

    Sanctioned Russian ship docks at Simon’s Town Naval Bas… (dailymaverick.co.za)

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