The Strange Case of the Sparta IV

The Russian cargo ship Sparta IV (IMO: 9743033), known for transporting armaments between Russia and Syria, has utilized the new route via Gibraltar to avoid the threat posed by Ukrainian maritime drones. On April 26th, the Sparta IV entered the Mediterranean, delivering supplies to Syria from the Baltic, circumventing the Black Sea.

On May 5th, the Sparta IV left the port of Tartus in Syria to return to Russia. Up to this point, nothing seemed particularly unusual. NATO assets have been monitoring the ship’s route, and there was at least one instance where a US Navy Boeing P-8A closely observed the vessel. However, such surveillance is not uncommon.

What is peculiar is that upon reaching the east of Malta, just outside Valletta’s territorial waters, the Sparta IV stopped and remained in the area for two days (from 11 to 13 May). Photos taken in the area, which is frequently used as a stopping point by numerous other ships, revealed that the Sparta IV was not traveling alone but was escorted by the frigate Admiral Grigorovich.

Analysts, and several Italian media outlets, found this suspicious because the area is known to be a crossing point for several submarine cables, particularly the Italy-Malta connection. There were concerns that the ship might be operating against these cables or gathering information to map them.

However, the Sparta IV appears to be a regular cargo ship, and the escort was likely due to the arms it was transporting. Nonetheless, the level of scrutiny remains high, especially after events in the Baltic last year. It is also possible that the ship reported some malfunction, taking about 48 hours to resolve the issue.

This morning, the ship passed through the Strait of Gibraltar alone, heading towards Baltiysk, Russia.

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