An unsuccessful missile attack carried out by Russian forces against Ukraine last month was intended at a cargo vessel, UK officials said on Monday, citing “new intelligence”.

The Ukrainian army had already announced on 25 August that its air defence forces managed to shoot down four incoming Russian missiles over the Black Sea the night before.

The projectiles had been launched from tactical aviation and Russian-occupied waters in the Sea of Azov.

Ukraine’s army had also stated in general terms that the missiles were heading towards Odesa.

The news did not cause wider attention at the time because Russia has been regularly raining down drones and missiles on Ukrainian ports since July, when Moscow withdrew from the United Nations grain deal that was protecting them.

The UK foreign office, however, revisited the incident on Monday, saying that Russia’s intended target that night was a Liberian-flag cargo ship berthed in Odesa.

In the statement, UK officials did neither identify the vessel nor elaborate on what kind of intelligence led them to their conclusion and who was its source.

According to vessel trackers, the only Liberian-flag ships known to have been stranded in Odesa at the time were the 32,600-dwt Primus (built 2006), which left the city on 26 August, as well as the 10,100-dwt Comet (built 1997).

Mutual destruction

If the information is accurate, it would constitute the first known case of a direct Russian attack on a commercial vessel in the area since the UN’s Black Sea Grain Initiative was suspended on 17 July.

Both Russia and Ukraine have threatened to attack each other’s shipping since. Actual violence against vessels, however, remained relatively limited so far.

On 14 August, a Russian war ship was reported firing warning shots at the small, 3,270-dwt general cargo ship Sukru Okan (built 1989) to force its inspection.

Ukraine, meanwhile, has often sent naval drones to attack Russian war ships. On 5 August, Ukraine hit a commercial vessel, the 6,619-dwt SIG (built 2014), which was reportedly carrying fuel for the Russian military.

Russian officials did not react to the UK claims on Monday.

In the past, Russian officials and bloggers have justified some of their attacks against Ukrainian port facilities with the argument that silos, and some times even ships, are used to assemble and launch sea drones against the Russian navy.