The Strange Case (and the Strange Route) of Two Russian Cargo Ships

For a few days, several OSINT accounts have been monitoring the journey of two Russian cargo ships, the Sparta IV (IMO: 9743033), and the Ursa Major (IMO: 9538892), which, departing from the Syrian port of Tartus, are heading towards Russia.

Both ships are well-known because they have been shuttling between various Russian ports in the Black Sea and Syria, likely transporting arms destined for Russian troops in the Middle East (here is an interesting analysis on the two ships and their suspicious activities). The two ships are being followed by the russian tanker Yaz (IMO: 9735323).

Recently, it is presumed that the flow of arms is reversed, meaning from the Middle East to Russia due to Russian military needs in Ukraine. In the past, we have tracked Russian military units escorting these ships, an unequivocal sign that they were not carrying “civil” material. However, now the two ships, instead of reaching Russia via the Black Sea route, are using the much longer route through the Mediterranean, emerging in the Atlantic, which extends the journey by 2/3 weeks.

The ships, as they passed through Gibraltar, were shadowed by the Royal Navy patrol boat HMS Dagger (P296).

Why is this? It is very likely that this is not due to a Turkish intention to close the straits to these ships (which, with their activity, violate the Montreux accords) but probably due to the threat posed by Ukrainian maritime drones, which today (as evidenced by this) make the Black Sea an extremely dangerous basin for Russian-flagged ships.

UPDATE 18/03/24

Now we know that the two cargo ships were traveling escorted (further confirmation of the nature of their cargo)

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