An official of the Turkish shipping company that owns the cargo ship Sukru Okan spoke to CNN about the crew's experience of Russians firing warning shots and boarding the vessel on Sunday, noting that the cargo ship is now in Romanian waters and waiting to move to the Ukrainian port of Izmail.
Russia said the warship fired warning shots when the captain of the Palau-flagged ship failed to respond to a request to stop for an inspection.
The general dry cargo ship was empty at the time of the incident and was on the way to pick up grain from Danube ports to carry to European and Turkish ports, in what was a "routine" journey, according to the official of the shipping company.
The official said that it is routine for the ship to go to the Romanian port of Sulina first before carrying on to Ukraine's Izmail port, but also said that at some point overnight, a crew member logged the Sukru Okan's destination as Izmail.
The Danube grain corridor is separate from the Black Sea grain corridor that was once protected by the now-defunct UN-brokered grain deal.
Here's how it played out, according to the shipping company official: The Sukru Okan's 12-person Turkish crew was radioed by the Russian warship Sunday as it was en route to Izmail, at which point the vessel tried to turn back to Turkish waters in order to get in touch with the country's Coast Guard and other officials.
Shortly after, the Russian warship fired warning shots at the cargo ship and began following it, according to the shipping company official who spoke to CNN on the condition of anonymity.
A helicopter then took off from the Russian warship and more warning shots were fired. The crew waited, and Russian servicemen boarded the ship. A video captured by the Sukru Okan crew showed several crew members sitting on the ship deck as a Russian helicopter hovered over them.
Russian soldiers questioned the captain about why he did not stop the vessel, and he told them he was in international waters, adding that "in order to notify officials, we turned our direction.”
The Russian soldiers then searched the cabins of the ship with the captain for about an hour, and also looked through the documents and passports of all the crew members, according to the official of the shipping company, who was not on board at the time of the incident.
The company official told CNN he believes the Russians were pleased that everyone on board was Turkish, adding that once the Russians were onboard they didn’t make any threats or take negative actions against the crew.
The Russian soldiers did make the captain of the Sukru Okan sign a document in Russian, which the shipping company official believes was a statement certifying that there was "no injury or damage" onboard.
"Since there were no negative outcomes, and the ship was not seized, we decided it should continue on its path," he told CNN.
The official said the Sukru Okan is now in Romanian waters, waiting for the operators of Ukraine's Izmail port to allow them to proceed. He described this manner of reaching Izmail as "the normal procedure." Data from MarineTraffic shows that the Sukru Okan was in waters near Romania's Sulina Port on Monday afternoon.
"For the last year, we have been going routine back and forth to those ports," said the official who noted that the shipping company purchased the vessel in 2021 and registered it under the flag of Palau due to restrictions on Turkish-flagged vessels.
Regarding Russia's previous announcement that it would consider ships going to Ukrainian ports as suspicious of carrying ammunition, he told CNN, "I guess we are the first," adding, "but I foresee these types of things becoming more common."