By Guy Faulconbridge
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Tuesday released video footage showing an armed naval inspection unit boarding a cargo ship in the southwestern Black Sea on Sunday and questioning the captain about why the ship had not stopped when demanded to by a Russian warship.
Russia said that it fired warning shots with automatic weapons at the Palau-flagged Sukru Okan vessel after it failed to respond to a demand for it to halt, though it was unclear why the ship was boarded so close to Turkey.
In a video released by the Russian defence ministry, crew members can be seen kneeling on deck with their hands on their head as a Russian Ka-29 helicopter approaches.
What appears to be bodycam footage from the naval unit, shows Russian servicemen with automatic weapons checking the ship and entering the bridge.
“Stop machine, stop machine,” one of the armed Russians says as crew members put their hands on their heads and kneel before the Russian weapons.
“Keep calm and listen to me,” another Russian says.
“Good day sir. I am Russian naval officer – please don’t shoot my group on video.”
Firing on a merchant vessel ratcheted up already acute concerns among shipowners, insurers and commodity traders about the dangers of getting ensnared in the Black Sea – the main route that both Ukraine and Russia use to get their agricultural produce to market.
Reuters could not reach the vessel or its owners for comment.
“During the inspection activities carried out, the work of the inspection team was carried out professionally in accordance with the requirements of international documents,” the defence ministry said.
“After the completion of the work of the inspection team on board the Sukru Okan, a verification protocol was drawn up, the ship continued to move to the port of Izmail.”
The video shows the language barriers.
In one cut, a Russian demands: “Speak English.”
“Yes, I am speaking English,” one of the crew replies.
The Russian officer then questions the captain through a crew translator about why the ship did not stop when asked to.
The crew member translating for the captain indicates that the captain had not understood the Russian demand to stop.
“You, bad understand,” the crew member says in English.
“Thank you, you good day sir,” the Russian officer says as he leaves.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Robert Birsel)