Norway’s foreign ministry (Utenriksdepartementet, UD) has confirmed that it’s investigating complaints from Ukraine that ships have sailed from Norway with cargoes of metallic ore that have been transferred to Russian vessels in a narrow strait between Crimea and Russia. Sending the material into Crimea or Russia could violate the international sanctions imposed after Russia invaded Crimea in 2014.
“The foreign minstry has received information about a possible violation of the restrictive measures tied to Crimea,” UD spokesperson Astrid Sehl wrote in a message to newspaper Aftenposten, which first reported on the Ukrainian complaints in Norway. “The ministry is following this up with closer investigations.”
Aftenposten reported that the Ukrainian embassy in Oslo had sent a written request that “competent authorities” undertake such an investigation. Sehl said Norwegian officials have informed Ukrainian authorities about the probe. She refused to go into further detail, nor would the director of the Titania Kronos mine in Rogaland, southwestern Norway, from which the cargo of ilmenite and ore originated. The metallic minerals are used in various products including plastics, paint, lacquer and cosmetics.
“I ask for understanding that we can’t comment on this now,” Jan Larsen, a Titania director, told Aftenposten. He claimed, though, that the company was “working intensely” with the foreign ministry “to clarify this issue.” Titania Kronos is tied to the Dallas-based firm Kronos Worldwide Inc, which bills itself as “brightening the world” through its production of the whitening agent titanium dioxide. Kronos operates seven facilities in North America and Europe.
At issue is the voyage of the Liberia-registered ship HHL Mississippi, which left the port at Jøssingfjord in Rogaland on November 6 last year. The harbour in the Jøssingfjord is used to load ilmenite and titan iron ore from the Titania Kronos mine for export around the world.
Aftenposten reported that the heavy-lift ship sailed first to Ijmuiden in the Netherlands, where it took on construction material that was offloaded in Constanza, Romania on November 20. On November 22 the vessel anchored late at night in the Kerch Straits between Crimea and Russia.
Satellite data from MarineTraffic has shown how a Russian cargo ship, the Nefterudovoz-2, pulled up alongside the Mississippi and then ran in shuttle traffic, making three trips between the Mississippi and the harbour at Kamysj-Burun in Crimea. The Russian vessel was used to allegedly transport the minerals and ore to the Krimskiy Titan plant, which produces titanoxide products made from the ilmenite.
A second similar voyage occurred the next month, when another ship, the Callista, sailed from the Jøssingfjord on December 5 directly to the Kerch Straits. The ship arrived on December 20. After three days at anchorage, the same Russian cargo vessel Nefterudovoz-2 pulled up alongside the Callista, and then sailed back and forth to the Crimean harbour, allegedly with the Callista’s cargo on board. Aftenposten reported that both vessels sailing from Norway are controlled by German ship operators.
“This is illegal,” wrote the Ukrainian Black Sea Institute of Strategic Studies of Foreign Affairs on its website. The institute monitors the sanctions against Russia and follows all ship traffic to Crimea closely via MarineTraffic. It claims that at least 10,000 tons of Norwegian ilmenite has been shipped to Crimea, which was taken over by Russia through its so-called “annexation” right after the last Russian-hosted Winter Olympics at Sochi. Norway was among European and other countries protesting the annexation and later adopting the sanctions against Russia in 2014. It has maintained them ever since.
Larsen, of the Norwegian minining company, told Aftenposten that Titania Kronos has “no direct sales” to Crimea, before declining further comment. Titania Kronos wouldn’t identify the buyer of its ilmenite or say why the ships sailed from Jøssingfjord to the straits off Crimea.
The cargo may have changed ownership during transport, Aftenposten noted, adding that the Krimskiy Titan plant in Crimea that allegedly took delivery of the ilmenite is owned by the Ukrainian but Russia-friendly oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who had close ties to former Ukrainian President Viktor Janukovitsj, who was toppled and went on to live in Russia.
The sanctions imposed on Russia include all companies with an address or administration, subsidiaries or branches in Crimea or Sebastopol. The sanctions, which Norway adopted shortly after they were imposed and has upheld through two governments, forbid any sales, deliveries, transports or exports of a long list of goods and technology “to any physical or judicial persons in Crimea or in Sebastapol,” or for use in either place.
Ronny Rosenvold, a Norwegian lawyer who specializes in the sanctions law, told Aftenposten that all Norwegian companies are obligated to investigate where their exports end up. He said the sanctions against Russia entail “widespread export bans” that forbid export of many goods to companies in Crimea or for use there. Violations can lead to criminal charges.
“The question is whether one or more warning lamps have gone off, and prompted a closer investigation,” Rosenvold said. “In order to be considered to have acted carefully, companies must check where their products end up, and that they’re not sold on to buyers in Crimea.” He added that it’s a “challenge” for Norwegian companies, however, because there are no means of seeing how Norwegian authorities practice the sanction rules. Companies thus need, he said, to have a dialogue with the foreign ministry before exporting products.