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Video Shows Russian Forces Storm Cargo Ship in Black Sea

  • Russian forces looking for military supplies raided a Ukraine-bound cargo ship in the Black Sea.
  • A video of the recent incident shows troops storm the vessel’s bridge and engage with the crew.
  • Moscow threatened last month that any ship sailing to a Ukrainian port could be targeted.

A video shared on Tuesday by Russia’s defense ministry shows its forces storm the bridge of a cargo ship and interrogate the crew during a helicopter raid in the Black Sea. The incident underscores a new challenge to shipping in the region as Moscow turns up the pressure by targeting vessels bound for Ukraine. 

The bodycam footage, which was published on the defense ministry’s Telegram channel, shows a Russian Ka-29 attack helicopter approach the Palau-flagged Sukru Okan before an inspection team boards the vessel and works its way up to the bridge. Moscow said that its troops searched the ship for “prohibited goods,” but the vessel was ultimately allowed to keep sailing to the southern Ukrainian port city of Izmail. 

Last month, Russia killed the crucial Black Sea grain deal and then immediately moved to further militarize the region, declaring that any vessels sailing to Ukrainian ports will be considered as potential carriers of military cargo. The raid, which took place early Sunday morning local time, appears to be the first time that Moscow has followed through on its threat. 

Russia said on Sunday that a patrol ship belonging to its Black Sea Fleet detected the Sukru Okan as it was traveling to Izmail and that the ship’s captain did not respond to a request for it to stop for inspection. To persuade the ship to stop, Moscow’s defense ministry said, its patrol vessel “opened warning fire from automatic small arms fire.” The Ka-29 then took off from the Russian ship and deployed a boarding party on the Sukru Okan.

The new footage of the raid opens by showing the Russian Ka-29 circling around the ship as several individuals kneel on an open platform with their hands behind their heads. The service member with the bodycam then jumps onto the vessel and follows other team members across the ship and onto the bridge.

“Stop machine, stop machine!” a Russian can be heard yelling to several crewmembers with their hands above their heads. “Sit down, please sit down,” a Russian service member yells at the crew, which kneels on the ground and attempts to identify the ship’s captain. “Speak English!” a Russian yells, to which one of the ship’s crewmembers responds: “Yes, I am speaking English!”

One of the Russians then identifies himself and says his actions are being recorded on video. He asks the crew not to record his team. A member of the Russian boarding party asks why the ship didn’t stop moving when told. The ship’s crew indicated they couldn’t understand Russia’s demands. The video shows a Russian inspecting blurred-out documents and ends with someone from the inspection team thanking the ship’s crew. 

Russia’s defense ministry wrote on Telegram that the inspection was “professional” and carried out in accordance with international requirements. 

A separate video of the incident has been circulated widely across social media. The footage shows Russian forces jumping onto the Ka-29 as the helicopter hovers just a few feet above the Sukru Okan. In the foreground, eight individuals — presumably members of the crew — can be seen sitting down. It’s unclear who filmed the footage. 

Ukraine’s Centre for Strategic Communication said the incident “posed a physical danger” to the Sukru Okan’s crew and that Russia’s behavior toward civilian ships “can be regarded as piracy.” It argued that the situation “requires a solution involving the fleet of the international coalition.”

In a statement on Monday, Ukraine’s foreign ministry said it “strongly condemns” Russia’s actions and blasted Moscow for its “deliberate policy of endangering the freedom of navigation and safety of commercial shipping in the Black Sea.” Kyiv added that Russia should not be allowed to block the Black Sea’s international waters, including those that lead to Ukraine’s embattled southern ports. 

Tensions in the Black Sea have been especially high since Russia spiked the grain deal, a decision that was met with harsh criticism from the West. Moscow has since relentlessly targeted Ukraine’s southern cities, ports, and grain storage facilities with missiles and drones, even striking just a few hundred feet from NATO territory in neighboring Romania.

In the midst of these challenges, Ukraine has made increasing use of sea drones to attack important Russian targets operating in the Black Sea.

The recent raid, however, is a notable move for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, one which raises the risk to commercial vessels transiting the region. 

“We’re continuing to monitor this situation carefully,” US State Department Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters on Monday, adding that “we of course are concerned that Russia’s military may expand their targeting of Ukrainian grain facilities to include attacks against civilian ships in the Black Sea.”

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