South Africa appoints panel to look into Lady R controversy

The South African Cabinet has welcomed the decision by President Ramaphosa of a three-member independent panel to investigate the circumstances of the docking of RoRo container carrier Lady R (IMO 9161003). The panel has been given six weeks to evaluate whether constitutional, legal or other obligations were fulfilled or violated when the vessel docked in Simon’s Town, Cape Town.

South Africa’s Lady R problem was the result of the docking of the sanctioned vessel at Simon’s Town Naval Base on December 6th last year, carrying military cargo. The docking could be called either “low key” or “secretive”. The ship had turned off its AIS and its arrival was termed “unexpected”. The ship was loaded and unloaded with cargo under armed guard at night under the cover of darkness.

The vessel departed on December 9th 2022. The South African government declined to comment on the matter, which only served to increase the level of speculation.

South Africa had attempted to tread a middle path over the Russia-Ukraine war, and had declined to criticize the invasion.

The matter percolated quietly for a few months, but then on May 11th the US ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, claimed that South Africa was supplying arms to Russia. Brigety added fuel to the fire by adding the allegation that the African National Congress (ANC) had been unresponsive to repeated American attempts at dialogue and that the ANC’s policy document on the war in Ukraine was “hostile” to the government of the US. He claimed that this meant that South Africa was not, as it claimed, “non-aligned”. But was instead aligned with Russia in the conflict.

2004-built, Russia-flagged, 7,260 gt Lady R is owned and managed by MG-Flot LLC of Akhty, Russia. As of June 14th the vessel was en route form Zhanjiang, China, to Qingdao, China, ETA June 17th.