Sanctioned vessel takes on new role?

General cargo ship Pizhma (IMO 8814354) departed the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk at the start of December, transited the Bosphorus Strait , sailed the distance of the Mediterranean, and then on December 15th passed into the Atlantic via the Strait of Gibraltar.

The obvious question was, why? The ship is sanctioned by the US on the grounds of possible illegal activity between the Black Sea and Syria. Now the Centre for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) has postulated that the Pizhma could have been militarized by the Russian authorities, with the intention of carrying out “strategic missions”.

The Pizhma apparently had left the Black Sea once before this year, with the key word here being “apparently”. Its AIS said that it travelled from Novorossiysk to Alexandria, Egypt, between May 31st and June 7th, leaving Egypt on or about June 9th and returning to Novorossiysk some time before June 15th.

However, satellite images of the Novorossiysk naval base told a different story. These showed that the Pizhma was loaded with an unknown cargo in Novorossiysk between June 8th and June 11tth, when it was meant to be in the Eastern Mediterranean. That would appear to indicate AIS spoofing, which once again raised the question, why? Someone seemed to be going to an awful lot of trouble to mislead people about what the Pezham has been up to.

CSIS said that the presence of the ship in a Russian naval facility, plus AIS spoofing to conceal its presence there, and the fact that it had received a naval escort during its subsequent voyage to Tartus, suggested that it was is being used for military purposes or other activities that Moscow would like to hide.

1990-built, Russia-flagged, 3,466 gt Pizhma is owned and managed by OBL Shipping LLC of Moscow, Russia. As of December 19th the vessel was in the Bay of Biscay, having left Novorossiysk in the Black Sea on December 1st.