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UKRAINE

Russian oligarch’s superyacht stuck in Norway as no one will refuel it

A superyacht owned by an oligarch, who has been linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been unable to leave a port in Narvik, northern Norway, because local suppliers refuse to sell the vessel fuel. 

Narvik, northern Norway.
The boat, which local suppliers have refused to sell fuel to, has been in Narvik since February. Pictured is Narvik's coastline. Photo by Hermie Divina from Pexels

The Ragnar, a superyacht owned by Russian oligarch Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, a former KGB agent who has long been linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been left stuck in Narvik, northern Norway, as no one in the port will sell fuel to the vessel. 

The yacht arrived at the port of Narvik on February 15th, according to shipping website MarineTraffic and had been due to leave port last week, according to the ship’s captain. 

However, the yacht has been left stuck in the port as local suppliers refuse to sell the vessel fuel. 

“We want to leave Narvik. We wanted to travel last week, but no suppliers want to sell us fuel, so now we are blocked here,” the ship’s captain Rob Lancaster told public broadcaster NRK

“The local suppliers say that they will not offer it to us. We explained that we are not on the sanctions list, that we are sailing under the Maltese flag and that we are not a Russian crew, but no one will listen to us,” Lancaster added. 

The owner of the 68-metre ship, Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, who reportedly made his fortune in nickel mining, is currently not on any sanctions lists and is not aboard the vessel.

In a notice he put up in the port, Lancaster said that the decision to refuse to sell fuel to the Ragnar was discriminatory. 

One of the local fuel suppliers who have refused to refuel the vessel told NRK that the crew of the Ragnar can “row home”. 

Narvik’s mayor, Rune Edvardsen, said that there was little he could do to help. 

“I understand that it is challenging (for the Ragnar) to buy fuel, but there is nothing I, as mayor, can influence. Many suppliers probably fear being subjected to sanctions. This is a situation that the Norwegian authorities and the EU must resolve,” Edvardsen. 

Lancaster said that the Ragnar was a commercial charter yacht in Narvik for winter tourism, but customers who had chartered the ship for a tour of Greenland and Svalbard were no shows. 

The ship’s captain said that the original plan to travel to Greenland and Svalbard had been scrapped and that the crew would return to Malta once the boat had fuel again. 

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UKRAINE

War in Ukraine casts a chill in Norwegian Arctic town

War may be far away but tensions from the Ukraine conflict are causing an unprecedented chill in a remote Arctic town where Russian and Ukrainian coalminers have worked side by side for decades.

War in Ukraine casts a chill in Norwegian Arctic town

 In Barentsburg, in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, relics of a bygone era — a bust of Lenin, a sculpture with Cyrillic script declaring “Our goal – Communism” — bear witness to Russia’s longstanding presence.

The town’s population peaked at around 1,500 in the 1980s, but shrank after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Now, some 370 people live here, two-thirds of them Ukrainians — most from the Russian-speaking eastern Donbas region — and the remainder Russians.

The atmosphere on the archipelago changed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February, officials and residents told AFP.

“Opinions are absolutely polarised,” admits Russian tour guide and historian Natalia Maksimishina.

But, she says, “what our long and difficult history of the Soviet Union has taught us is that people here know when to stop talking politics”.

Some Ukrainians accuse the Russian state-owned company Arktikugol Trust operating the coal mine in Barentsburg of muzzling dissent.

But Russia’s consul Sergey Guschin says there were “no visible signs of conflict on the surface”, although he admits “there are of course some tensions and discussions on social networks” like Facebook and Telegram.

The consulate is protected by high iron bars and security cameras, and lavishly decorated with a marble entrance, winter garden and custom-made tapestries. Its splendour stands out in the otherwise drab town.

Departures

In what could be another sign that anger is simmering under the surface, around 45 people have left Barentsburg “since the start of the operation”, acknowledges Guschin, using Moscow’s terminology for the Ukraine invasion. There were no further details about the individuals.

The departures speak volumes, as leaving Barentsburg is no easy feat. estern sanctions imposed on Russian banks have not only prevented the miners from sending money home to their families, they’ve also made it difficult for them to buy plane tickets.

The only airport is in Longyearbyen, Svalbard’s main town 35 kilometres (22 miles) away, where it is difficult to get by without a Visa or Mastercard, which Russians cannot use because of sanctions.

At the entrance to Barentsburg, the coal plant spews out black smoke, adding to the town’s dreary atmosphere.

A 1920 treaty which gave Norway sovereignty over Svalbard guarantees citizens from signatory nations equal access to its natural resources.

Russia’s Arktikugol Trust has operated the mine in Barentsburg, on the shores of the Isfjorden fjord, since 1932.

 A few locals huddle between the town’s pastel-coloured buildings, seeking shelter from the bitter cold that reigns even in May.

Locals are more discreet today, especially since they work for the state-controlled company that runs the whole town, from the mine to the shops and restaurants.

Russia imposes heavy fines or even prison terms on anyone found guilty of “discrediting” its military or publishing “false information” about it.

‘People just shut up’

Longyearbyen is inhabited mainly by Norwegians but has a large Russian and Ukrainian community.

It can only be reached by helicopter or snowmobile in winter and boat in summer due to lack of roads from Barentsburg.

Julia Lytvynova, a 32-year-old Ukrainian seamstress who used to live in Barentsburg, accuses Arktikugol Trust of suppressing dissent

As a result, “people just shut up, work and live their lives like nothing has happened”.

She hasn’t been back to Barentsburg since the war started, but she asked a friend to put up an anti-war poster for her on the gates of the Russia consulate.

Her sign, written on a blue-and-yellow background, had a now-famous expletive-laden line used by Ukrainian border guards after rejecting a Russian warship’s surrender demand. Her poster was taken down in less than five minutes, she says.

The mayor of Longyearbyen, who has lived in Svalbard for 22 years, says he has “never experienced the kind of discord” now seen among the 2,500 residents of 50 nationalities, including around 100 Russians and Ukrainians.

“There are some tensions in the air,” Arild Olsen admits.

n response to the invasion, most tour operators in Longyearbyen stopped taking tourists to Barentsburg, depriving the state-owned company of a lucrative cash cow.

Lytvynova supports the move “because this money supports the Russian aggression”. By ending this source of income, “they don’t help to kill my Ukrainian people”.

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