India Did Not Allow Russian Ship Docked at West Bengal's Haldia to Offload Goods

India has not stated any official reason for the denial of permission to this particular vessel, but the decision came just after David Lu's visit to India.

New Delhi: Over a week after allowing a Russian cargo ship that is in the US sanctions list to dock at Haldia port in West Bengal, India has refused it the authorisation to offload goods – forcing the vessel to set sail for Russia on January 16.

India has been openly violating US sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine by allowing ships with Russian flags to dock and offload goods at its ports. It has not stated any official reason for the denial of permission to this particular vessel, but the decision came just after the visit of David Lu, the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, to Bangladesh and India between January 11 and 15. Lu was in New Delhi to attend the India-US Forum.

According to the Bangladeshi daily Prothom Alo, which was quoting diplomatic sources, the ship was allowed by India to unload goods at the Kochi port in Kerala before it set sail for Bangladesh’s Mongla port to deposit equipment for the construction of the Rooppur nuclear plant in end December. While it was claimed in the news report that this information was conveyed to David Lu by India government, and the American diplomat wanted India too to obey the sanctions, The Wire has not been able to confirm it independently.

The present sailing status of the vessel on the Global Ship Tracking Intelligence website showed the Russian ship arriving at Shantou in China on January 31, 2023.

As per the Bangladeshi media, the Indian government’s decision has come as a fresh setback to that country’s nuclear plant as it would add to various US sanctions-related challenges already threatening the December 2023 deadline for its completion. The Russian state-owned corporation Rosatam is the principal contractor of the Rooppur project, which when completed will be Bangladesh’s first nuclear plant.

As per Dhaka-based media, the Russian vessel was initially to dock at Bangladesh’s Mongla port on December 24. However, the US embassy in Dhaka informed the Sheikh Hasina government that the ship was in its sanctions list, and therefore, must not be allowed to dock at its port.

“Russian flag carrier URSA MANOR was supposed to reach Mongla Port on December 24. However, the US embassy in Dhaka informed Bangladesh on December 20 that the vessel was not URSA MANOR but Sparta 3, a ship on which the US slapped sanctions over Russian invasion of Ukraine,” The Daily Star reported. “After confirming the matter, the Bangladeshi authorities refused to let the ship anchor at Mongla Port,” it added.

Prothom Alo said the US embassy in Dhaka, in a letter to Bangladesh foreign ministry, said although the name and colour of the ship had been changed, its international maritime organisation certificate number matched that of Sparta 3, which has US embargo. “That diplomatic letter further stated that unloading products from that ship and providing fuel or any sort of assistance to the sailors of that ship might possess a risk of falling under US sanctions or large financial penalties,” the news report said.

News reports said the vessel remained on the seas for some time before heading towards Haldia. On January 4, BBC Bangla had reported that the Russian ship was to sail to Haldia in West Bengal. Speculation was that the equipment could be sent to Bangladesh by road. A week before this, Arindam Bagchi, India’s Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson, told the BBC that he had no information about the Russian ship being denied permission to port but added that it would not be an issue if the ship arrived in India. “There are a lot of debates [on] which is sanction and which is not in today’s technical world. But for the sake of our energy security, we will bring oil from wherever we get it. This is our policy. The same policy is applicable for other products too.”

A January 6 report by Dhaka Tribune quoted Mongla Port Authority secretary Kalachand Singh as saying, “We have learned that the cargo from the vessel can be unloaded at the Haldia port in India’s West Bengal. From there, another vessel could carry the consignment for the Rooppur power plant.”

However, on January 20, The Daily Star, quoting a Bangladeshi foreign ministry official, said, “The Russian embassy in Dhaka has informed the authorities that the ship is returning to Russia after being unable to offload equipment at Haldia port.”

The Wire has sent a query to the MEA spokesperson for a formal response on the denial of permission to this particular vessel. The Wire has also tried reaching out to the US and Russian embassies for their comments. The report will be updated when a response is received.