A small fleet directed from Constanța is repeatedly violating the sanctions imposed by the European Union against the Russian Federation after the annexation of Crimea. Despite the EU ban for goods from Crimea and Sevastopol reaching Union countries, at least nine ships operated by companies owned by Syrians in Constanța are loading goods in Crimea ports and transporting them to Romania and/or Turkey. Romanian authorities, however, are turning a blind eye to this illegal traffic, although they claim to be carefully monitoring the phenomenon.
UE imposed restrictions on imports from Crimea
In July 2015, Ukrainian news portal Black Sea News published an article containing the black list of foreign ships entering Crimean ports after its annexation by the Russian Federation in March 2014. According to Black Sea News, the list contained, in July 2015, 105 ships. Of these, most of them were Turkish, but the list also included Greek, Bulgarian, Italian, German and other ships (originating from EU member states). The EU, however, imposed sanctions for member states allowing the ships from territories to perform trade activities in the ports of Crimea and Sevastopol. Thus, the Ministry of Foreign affairs shows, in a response received to the request of the Romanian Center for Investigative Journalism, that “according to the Decision 2014/386/PESC related to the restrictions on goods originating from Crimea or Sevastopol, in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol and the (EU) Regulation no. 692/2014 concerning restrictions on the import into the Union of goods originating in Crimea or Sevastopol, in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol, restrictions have been introduced on the import into the Union of goods originating from Crimea or Sevastopol,”.
Article 1 of Decision 2014/386/PESC provides that”(1) The import into the Union of goods originating in Crimea or Sevastopol shall be prohibited. (2) It shall be prohibited to provide, directly or indirectly, financing or financial assistance, as well as insurance and reinsurance, related to the import of goods originating in Crimea or Sevastopol.”
Article 10 of (EU) Regulation no. 692/2014 concerning restrictions on the import into the Union of goods originating in Crimea or Sevastopol, in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol also provides, in paragraph d, that ” This Regulation shall apply to any legal person, entity or body, inside or outside the territory of the Union, which is incorporated or constituted under the law of a Member State;”.
Nine ships operated from Constanța are loading goods from Crimea
Black Sea News (BSN) mentioned, in the article named abode, that Romania has nine ships on the black list of vessels loading goods from the ports of Crimea Sevastopol. The Ukrainian portal lists the transport vessels Anda, Adnan H, Snow White, Nargys H, Sherin, Ramzi, Rania H, Georgiana H and Jawdat M. Besides Jawdat M (owned, according to BSN, by the offshore company Aqua Marine Shipping Co SA and administered by United Marine Co SRL from Constanța), all the other ships are owned and/or operated by Syrians grouped around Johar Shipping SRL from Constanța (shareholders on the company or associates or employees of partner companies from various offshore jurisdictions, all controlled by the same group of Syrians in the families Johar – or Jaohar/Jawhar, depending on the transcription in Latin characters of the Arab writing – and Hasan/Hassan).
The Syrian trident in Constanța: Johar Shipping, Georgiana Co and Bia Shipping Co
Johar Shipping SRL Constanța is owned by Johar Hasan, a Syrian national living in Constanța since the 90’s. A former ship captain, he is now involved in ship business (especially agency services, administration/operation, obtaining naval safety certificates, etc.). According to the company website (http://johar.ro/partners.html), the main partners of Johar Shipping SRL are Georgiana Co and Bia Shipping Co. During a telephone conversation, Johar Hasan told us that Bia Shipping Co is an offshore company from the Marshall Islands, founded in 2010, which has offices both in Cyprus and Constanța. Johar Hasan also added that Georgiana Co is an offshore company from Cyprus, but that is also has an office in Constanța. “It’s like I was the owner of Bia Shipping Co, although I am not; I can sign any documents on behalf of Bia Shipping Co. Similarly, I can also sign any documents on behalf of Georgiana Co”, Hasan Johar declared. Basically, regardless of who the person behind the two offshore companies might be, the decision-maker is Syrian Constanța resident Johar Hasan.
Scrap metal from Crimea for Romania and Turkey
The cargo ship Anda, featured on the Black Sea News black list, is owned (according to BSN) by Sherin Navigation, an offshore company from the Marshall Islands, and operated by Johar Shipping SRL. However, Anda doesn’t appea on the company website, but is mentioned on both the websites of Georgiana Co, and Bia Shipping Co. Black Sea News has written that the cargo ship has loaded goods from the three ports of Crimea: Kerch, Feodosiya and Sevastopol. The data updated by BSN until late 2015 shows that the transports were constantly carried out at least until late last year and that the loaded goods were scrap metal for Romania and Turkey (“Scrap metal transportation to Romania and Turkey”).
In the case of the cargo ship Adnan H, the situation is identical: BSN indicates that the owner is the offshore Sherin Navigation from the Marshall Islands, operated by Johar Shipping SRL. Adnan H is listed in the fleet administered by Georgiana Co, as well as in the fleet administered by Bia Shipping Co. The cargo ship was docked in the same Crimean ports (Kerch, Feodosiya și Sevastopol) and transported the same goods scrap metal for Romania and Turkey (“Scrap metal transportation to Romania and Turkey”).
Rania H, used for cigarette smuggling
In the case of the Rania H cargo ship for general goods, registered by Black Sea News as anchored in the Feodosyia port on December 13th 2015, the story also includes criminal charges for contraband in Romania. The ship is mentioned, at the time, as being both a part of the fleet administered by Georgiana Co, and the one administered by Bia Shipping Co. In October 2014, Abdul Rahman Hassan (a former associate of Johar Hasan in Shnar Shipping SRL Constanța), aged 53, was arrested by the judges in Constanța when the prosecutors discovered that he hadn’t declared 40,440 cigarettes, which he smuggled illegally from Turkey to Romania on board of Rania H, of which he was the captain. One year later, in October 2015, Abdul Rahman Hassan was convicted to three years and eight months in prison. Besides cigarette smuggling, the prosecutors accused him of harboring two Syrian Kurds who had entered Romania illegally (see here the release of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Constanța Court of Appeal).
In addition, in August 2013, Johar Hasan (the last person on the right side of the photo) was on board of Rania H, in the English port of Ipswich (as shown by a photo posted on Facebook by Jaohar Uk Limited, a company owned by Khaled Jaohar, a cousin of Johar Hasan).
MAE: the Togo flag takes the ships out of our jurisdiction
Although the official data show undoubtedly that the ships operated by the companies in Constanța violated the EU sanctions imposed on Crimea after the annexation of the island by the Russian Federation, the Romanian authorities failed to take any measures to punish the perpetrators of such violations. Moreover, the MAE in Bucharest claims that there were no irregularities: “The competent institution in this matter (the National Agency for Fiscal Administration through the General Directorate of Customs) has established specific procedures to ensure that the prohibition is complied with. In this sense, the General Directorate of Customs informed us that there were no imports from Crimea contrary to the regimen imposed by the mentioned legal acts.”
How can we explain MAE’s easiness in dealing with this issue? These are the explanations provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the RCIJ: “In regard to the ships Adnan H, Nargys H, Anda, Sherin, in 2014, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has learned from public sources that the 4 ships entered the port of Feodosia. In this context, interinstitutional meetings were convened with the Romanian authorities competent in the field: the Ministry of Transports and the Romanian Naval Authority. From the information received, we concluded that the mentioned ships are under the Togo flag, and as such are not under the jurisdiction of the Romanian state.”
The Romanian authorities are carefully monitoring but are not sanctioning
In other words, the ships’ flag has spared the owners of the ships from sanctions, even though these owners are the Romanian companies in Constanța, companies founded under Romanian law and under European community law. However, MAE also informed us that the phenomenon is being carefully monitored by the authorities: “Nevertheless, further to these meetings, the Ministry of Transports has notified the Romanian companies on the EU sanctions in force and has emphasized their mandatory nature. The Ministry of Transports is carefully monitoring the activities of all ships to ensure that the Romanian or foreign companies on Romanian territory comply with the mentioned sanctions.
Also, further to the interinstitutional meetings, the Romanian Naval Authority has published an information notice for Romanian companies in regard to the restrictive EU measures in force. If there is a violation of the relevant legislation in force for Romanian operators, including the restrictive EU measures, the persons involved can face criminal or administrative sanctions, depending on the committed offense. This rule is provided in art. 26 of OUG no. 202/2008 on the implementation of international sanctions.”
It is, however, unclear how the Romanian authorities are interpreting article 10 of the (EU) Regulation no. 692/2014 concerning restrictions on the import into the Union of goods originating in Crimea or Sevastopol, (mentioned in the beginning of the article), which stipulates, at paragraph d, that ” This Regulation shall apply to any legal person, entity or body, inside or outside the territory of the Union, which is incorporated or constituted under the law of a Member State “. In other words, can the Romanian companies operating the ships be sanctioned or will they completely escape the rigors of an EU decision just because they are operating ships under exotic flags, even though they are conducting their activities exclusively in the Black Sea and are directed from Constanța?