Turkish authorities have detained a Kazakhstan-owned ship on suspicion of carrying Ukrainian grain misappropriated by Russian forces.

The 7,000-dwt general cargo ship Zhibek Zholy (built 2016) is being held at the port of Karasu near Istanbul, Reuters said on Sunday, citing Ukraine’s ambassador to Turkey Vasyl Bodnar.

“We have full co-operation. The ship is currently standing at the entrance to the port, it has been detained by the customs authorities of Turkey,” Bodnar told Ukrainian national television, according to Reuters.

Media reported on Monday that the ship was not not allowed to unload its cargo because it lacked the necessary permits and that Turkish authorities were investigating the matter.

Speaking in Moscow on Monday, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the Zhibek Zholy was carrying grain as part of a contract agreement between Turkey and Estonia. “The situation needs to be investigated,” Lavrov was quoted as saying.

The Zhibek Zholy’s registered owner KTZ Express told Reuters the ship was under bareboat charter to Green-Line, an unsanctioned Russian company, and that “all sanctions and restrictions” would be abided by.

The Zhibek Zholy is believed to be the first ship to carry grain out of Berdyansk, a Ukrainian port on the Azov Sea that Russian forces occupied after invading the country on 24 February.

Ukraine has since accused Russia of illicitly profiting from the export of looted grain.

War in the Black Sea has led to a near-complete standstill in Ukrainian grain exports. The country’s major export terminals on the north of the Black Sea shut down from day one of the conflict.

International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) secretary general Steve Cotton speaks in Istanbul on 1 July, 2022. Photo: Harry Papachristou

Only some small ports to the west of Odessa manage to get grain out, but not in any significant quantities that would help stave off fears of a humanitarian food crisis in Africa and other less developed regions of the world.

International talks are underway to resume seaborne grain exports and the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has called for safe corridors to be established in the region.

IMO president Kitack Lim was in Turkey on Saturday to attend the second Turkish Maritime Summit in Istanbul.

Asked by TradeWinds whether there was anything new about talks to set up corridors that could help the export of grain, he said he was in “no position to say anything about that at this moment”.

The capture by Ukraine last week of the Snake Island, a strategically located islet in the northwestern Black Sea, spurred some hopes about a resumption of grain exports and the release of dozens of commercial vessels trapped in Ukrainian ports.

“We understand that conversations are still going on about a safe corridor,” International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) secretary general Steve Cotton told TradeWinds on the sidelines of the same event.

Even in the best case of a speedy diplomatic solution, however, practical implementation will take time on the ground as mines would need to be cleared up first, he warned.

“We will probably need the navies of the world to come help us with mine-sweeping — it won’t be easily done,” Cotton said.

Russian-laid mines claimed a maritime victim over the weekend, according to widespread media reports.

A landing craft of the Russian Navy is said to have exploded when it accidentally hit a Russian mine near Mariupol.

Russia authorities have yet to confirm the incident, although a Telegram channel related to the Russian Navy said that all crew survived the friendly-fire incident.