South African MPs have demanded to know whether the government is selling arms to Russia after a cargo ship sanctioned for its role in Moscow’s war effort docked at a navy base near Cape Town.
The Lady R, a Russian-flagged roll-on-roll-off vehicle and container carrier, was spotted in South Africa’s Simon’s Town naval port on Thursday night.
The vessel was seen off-loading and then taking on cargo during one of the regular power cuts that affect the country, the Daily Maverick, a South African paper, reported citing local witnesses who photographed her in port.
Witnesses saw the vessel leaving port at around 6.30am on Friday, local media reported. The ship’s transponder was switched off later on Friday, meaning her exact whereabouts were unknown.
Kobus Marais, the defence spokesman for the opposition DA, said he had written to Thandi Modise, the defence minister, to demand an explanation.
The defence minister “must explain to South Africans what a sanctioned Russian ship is doing at the Simon’s Town naval base and why there is so much secrecy surrounding it”, he said in a statement.
“Evidence suggests that over the last two nights there was unusual activity in the harbour with on-board cranes offloading cargo from the Russian commercial vessel onto trucks,” he said.
“This behaviour has local residents worried because the vessel is under sanctions by the US and European Union after Russia invaded Ukraine.”
The South African defence ministry has not commented on the ship’s visit.
The Lady R is a relatively small 7,260 ton ship designed to carry vehicles and cargo containers. It is owned and operated by Transmorflot LLC, a Russian company registered in Dagestan.
The Telegraph approached Transmorflot LLC for comment.
The United States sanctioned Transmorflot and six of its vessels including the Lady R in May, saying they had been used to transport weapons for the Russian government.
Vessel tracking services show she switched off her transponder earlier this week. Her last known position was near Cape Town.
There is no evidence that South Africa has sold arms to Russia since the invasion of Ukraine began on February 24.
The National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC), the government agency that all South African arms firms must apply for permission before exporting weapons, says it has no record of sales to Russia.
Ms Modise visited Moscow in August to attend a conference hosted by Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister.
The same month she declined to say whether Armscor, South Africa’s state-owned defence company, was selling munitions to Russia.
In response to a written parliamentary question from opposition leader John Steenhuisen, she said that she could not divulge details of specific arms deals because “unauthorised disclosure may cause serious implications to national security”.
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