German and Norwegian authorities did not investigate possible violations of Crimea export ban in 2017
A German public prosecutor said any investigation would have been restricted by the need for co-operation from Russian authorities.
by Jay Richardson
19 July 2023
German public prosecutors and the Norwegian Police Security Service have confirmed they did not open formal investigations into a possible breach of international sanctions by multiple companies in their respective jurisdictions in late 2017. The Norwegian mining company Titania and the German shipping companies Hansa Heavy Lift and Heinz Corleis Reederei allegedly sent 35,000 tons of ilmenite, a titanium ore, to Crimea in violation of international export bans following Russia’s 2014 invasion of the peninsula.
Black Sea News first reported that two cargo ships operated by the German companies stayed at anchor in the Kerch Strait between Russia and occupied Crimea on separate occasions in November and December 2017. Both ships had previously stopped at Jøssingfjord in southwestern Norway, where Titania A/S mines ilmenite, which is used as a pigment and to produce titanium metal for artificial body parts, aerospace, and defence, among other applications.
According to data from MarineTraffic, the vessels HHL Mississippi and Callisto, both sailing under the flag of Liberia, each anchored for several days while a Russian dry cargo ship shuttled several times between them and the Crimean port of Kamysh-Burun, near the city of Kerch. Black Sea News alleged that the Russian ship was carrying Norwegian titanium to Kamysh-Burun, and that its final destination was a processing plant in Crimea. If true, each of the shipments would represent a breach of Norwegian and international sanctions, which prohibit exports of construction and defence material to the occupied region.
The Krimsky Titan processing plant, located about 175 miles northwest of Kerch near the Russian border, is one of the largest producers of titanium dioxide on the European continent, and uses ilmenite as a raw material. Its owner is the Ukranian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who has successfully fought nearly a decade of US extradition efforts following an indictment for allegedly directing $18.5 million in bribes to Indian officials to obtain a titanium supply contract with Boeing.
Titania A/S deposited mining waste in Jøssingfjord, a three-kilometre-long fjord near the mine, from 1960 until 1984, when it relocated the discharge site further seaward. A campaign for environmental and fishing protections forced the company to switch to landfill in 1994. Titania is still permitted to discharge limited quantities of metals into Jøssingfjord, and has released 38.32 kg of arsenic in the past 10 years.
Martin Bernsden, a spokesperson for the Norwegian Police Security Service (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste, or PST), told the sonification the service had “not initiated” an investigation into the alleged sanctions violation and had “not considered starting any proceedings the following years either.”
In response to reports in Aftenposten and Black Sea News from 2017 and 2018, Bernsden said: “Since we did not start any investigation on the basis of the information we had, it is difficult to confirm or deny whether the media article is true or not. PST unfortunately does not have enough information to say anything more about the case.”
Liddy Oechtering, Chief Public Prosecutor at the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Hamburg, where both German shipping companies were registered, told the sonification it had found “no reasonable initial suspicion for embargo violations,” and had forwarded the case to the District Prosecution Office in Essen. A Senior Prosecutor for Essen, Anette Milk, said the office closed the case in May 2019 “due to lack of evidence.”
Milk told the sonification the Essen District Prosecution Office “could not establish proof for the fact that this batch of ilmenite really reached Crimea” and that a full investigation “could have been done only with international legal assistance by the Russian authorities and it’s not necessary to mention why any such request would stay unanswered.”
“Second, even if we assume the ilmenite finally reached Crimea, we could not prove that the suspects could foresee the cargo ending up in Crimea (since that delivery was facilitated by another company),” she added.
One of the two shipping companies, Hansa Heavy Lift, filed for bankruptcy at the end of 2018 and its vessels, including HHL Mississippi, were acquired by the Dutch company Spliethoff Group. A spokesperson for Hansa Heavy Lift told Deutschlandfunk Kultur in July 2018 that the company “didn’t go to the Crimea, and we didn’t know that the end user was in Crimea.”
The Callisto is owned by Heinz Corleis Reederei, which is listed as an active company in Germany under the name of Heinz Corleis, but without contact information. Hansa Ship Management, which lists Heinz Corleis as a commercial manager, did not respond to a request for comment.
In January 2018, Dag Larsen, Managing Director at Titania, told Aftenposten the company had “no direct sales to Crimea” and was “working intensively with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify the matter.” He refused to comment further, saying Titania was still “working on the case.” In response to a request for comment from the sonification, Larsen said: “This matter was closed some time ago as regards Titania, and we have no further comments.” º
We have translated quotations from Aftenposten from Norwegian into English.