Mysterious Russian cargo ship Lady R exits Simon’s Town

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The furtive arrival of Russian cargo vessel Lady R in Simon’s Town earlier this week was nowhere near in the same class as her departure earlier today (Friday).

She was seen by countless Simon’s Town residents, including retired and serving SA Navy (SAN) personnel, leaving the navy harbour at 06h30. Speculation is rife about Lady R’s next port of call with a former SAN officer opining she would steam out of South African territorial waters while awaiting owner’s instructions.

Adding fuel to speculation around the Russian Federation-flagged cargo vessel’s presence in South Africa and specifically the home port of the SAN fleet was her taking on and apparently offloading cargo at night and during loadshedding. “Whether this was planned or thanks to Eskom, we’ll probably never know,” another navy pensioner told defenceWeb.

Lady R is reportedly sanctioned by the United States (US) Treasury Department for secretly carrying arms, which is why Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister Kobus Marais asked for an urgent one-on-one with defence minister Thandi Modise.

In a statement he said: “The minister has been mum since Lady R docked at Simon’s Town”.

“The vessel should have docked at Table Bay harbour like other commercial vessels. Instead, it was allowed to dock at Simon’s Town Naval base, which, as the largest base in the country, is a national key point.

“Evidence suggests over the past two nights there was unusual activity in the harbour with ship-mounted cranes offloading cargo from the Russian commercial vessel onto trucks. There was also truck movement transporting containers in and out of the naval base. The trucks were protected by armed personnel. While trucks transporting containers are not uncommon it is unusual for such activities to take place at night.

“This behaviour had local residents worried because the vessel is under sanction by the US and European Union after Russia invaded Ukraine,” he said, adding, “Given government’s history with Russia, Minister Modise needs to come clean and explain what is going on and why this commercial vessel was allowed to dock at Simon’s Town. What is the minister hiding and why is it shrouded in secrecy? The minister and the Chief of the SANDF (SA National Defence Force) have a responsibility to tell South Africans what is going on”.

defenceWeb had, at the time of publishing, not received any response to a request to SAN Public Relations on the details of Lady R’s Simon’s Town stop. There has also – as yet – been no public response by either Modise’s office or the Department of Defence (DoD).

DA leader John Steenhuisen earlier this year asked Modise whether Armscor sells arms and ammunition to Russia. In August she replied saying foreign arms contracts are often classified and protected by confidentiality clauses “as it relates to security information where unauthorised disclosure may cause serious implications to national security. It will therefore not possible to divulge any detail regarding the specifics of agreements of this nature.”

Ezra Jele, head of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) Secretariat, told Daily Maverick no one applied to the NCACC for a permit to sell arms to Russia with experts expressing doubt that Russia wants any equipment the South African defence industry can provide.