Russia has fired on and detained a Turkish-managed general cargoship it claims was attempting a rescue mission to the devastated Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

The official representative of the Russian Defence Ministry, Major General Igor Konashenkov, told reporters the 5,200-dwt Apache (built 1991) diverted from a convoy of ships in the Sea of Azov on 8 April.

He said this was an attempt by the Ukrainian government to evacuate Ukrainian leaders by sea from the port.

“The Kyiv regime keeps trying to evacuate the leaders of the nationalist Azov regiment and foreign mercenaries from Mariupol,” the general added.

This is after earlier bids to airlift personnel by helicopters failed, he claimed.

Konashenkov said the Malta-flag ship was heading from Taganrog Bay to the Kerch Strait with other vessels.

He added the Apache then abruptly changed course 30km off Mariupol and attempted to break Russia’s sea blockade.

The vessel is then claimed to have continued to proceed without responding to demands by Russian border guards to make contact.

Warning artillery fire from two border patrol boats did not deter the ship.

“While heading to the port, the ship was conducting a radio exchange, transmitting messages, ‘I’m a maniac, I’m coming to you,’” Konashenkov said, adding that “fire signals” were seen on the coast.

Crew complied

The cargoship eventually changed course and the crew contacted the border guards, asking them to cease fire.

The Apache’s crew is then claimed to have said they were ready to comply with Russia’s requests.

No injuries were reported, but the seafarers extinguished a fire to the stern of the ship that was started by the artillery bombardment.

“After the inspection, the Ukrainian cargo ship Apache with the crew is escorted to the port of Yeysk,” Konashenkov concluded.

The vessel is listed as operated by Misha Shipping of Turkey.

Phones were ringing out at Misha Shipping on Monday morning, but the company has been contacted for further information by email.

Intermittent AIS data makes the Russian claims impossible to verify.