By Sarah El Safty and Mahmoud Salama
CAIRO (Reuters) – Ukrainian officials are working to free a detained ship carrying Ukrainian wheat purchased by the Egyptian government, Ukraine’s Middle East envoy told reporters on Monday.
The ship, Emmakris III, was detained last month at the request of Ukraine’s attorney general to investigate its alleged Russian owner, according to court documents seen by Reuters.
“We are working in coordination with all responsible authorities in Ukraine and Egypt, to ensure that this ship is allowed to sail as soon as possible,” said Ukraine’s special envoy to the Middle East, Maksym Subkh.
The cargo of around 60,000 tonnes of Ukrainian wheat was bought by Egypt’s state grain buyer, the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC), in a tender in December for shipment in February, but she has been stranded at the port of Chornomorsk since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
The ship was due to sail last month after the United Nations and Turkey brokered a deal to revive Black Sea grain and fertilizer exports that have been stuck since the crisis began.
The detention was due to allegations that the ship belonged to a Russian company involved in “the financing of an action aimed at changing the limits of the territory or the state border of Ukraine”, according to the order of the court.
The cargo was supplied to the GASC by trading company Olam, while the cargo was supplied by Dubai-based trading company GTCS, which denied owning the vessel in a statement to Reuters on August 10.
“Emmakris III has been chartered by us to transport the wheat cargo under the terms of the GASC tender,” the company said. “The ship does not belong and has never belonged to a Russian company.”
According to the court order, the vessel’s registered owner is Dubai-based Greater Bloom Limited, but Ukrainian officials believe the real owner is a Russian company.
The company that Ukrainian officials say is the true owner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Egypt, typically the world’s largest wheat importer, was heavily dependent on wheat shipments from the Black Sea that were cut short by the February 24 Russian invasion for its subsidized bread program. It is now looking to diversify its wheat supplies, buying more than a million tonnes in July through tenders and direct purchases to boost its strategic reserves.
Egypt’s supply ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Reuters offices; Editing by Josie Kao)