June 25, 2016

How to get 20 tanks from Russian to Nicaragua when FedEx won't help.

T-72B1 at the Russian Arms Expo 2013
Photo Credit: Noam Eshel, Defense-Update
In May 2016 documents were released, or leaked, on Russia's State procurement agency's web site showing a deal with Nicaragua to sell 50 T-72B1 tanks to their military (ref).  More recently, Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon published the deal included provision for a SIGINT station to be co-located with a GLONASS satellite ground terminal (ref).  Shortly after, those claims were rebuffed by the Russian media (ref).  So who are you going to believe?

Also, where are the tanks now, and how do you get 20 tanks to Nicaragua from Russia anyway?

You could load them on a transport plane, but that's by far the most expensive way; just float them over on a boat!

Remember back in 2008, there was an arms embargo on South Sudan, and Ukraine was smuggling them tanks via Kenya on board the MV Faina, a 500ft cargo vessel, but the shipment was intercepted by those pesky Somali pirates and delayed for 5 months?  No?  Let me jog your memory.

The following video, according to the Kenyan Defense Department, has nothing to do with the smuggled tanks that were offloaded, and are not being transported to South Sudan.  This is just an ordinary military exercise, that happens to involve a lot of tanks, being shipped toward South Sudan... Seriously?

From this we know a 500ft Roll On Roll Off (RoRo) civilian cargo vessel can carry 33 tanks that weigh about 41 Tons each. As you see in the AP video, a RoRo allows vehicles to roll on, then roll off; no crane needed.  Otherwise, you'd need a 45 Ton crane in order to lift a 41 Ton tank off a cargo ship, and depending where you're offloading, the port may not have one.

In 2015 Iraq ordered some modernized T-72s as well, to replace their American M1A1 Abrams tanks.  To an American this might be viewed as a downgrade, but the Abrams is the Cadillac of battle tanks, and costs 1000% more than the T-72, which has been greatly improve over the years, and is arguably only marginally less capable than than Abrams.

Here are pictures of the Iraqi T-72s on board, and being lifted out of an unnamed general cargo vessel (ref) in the Umm Qasr Port, Iraq's only deep water port,  and I believe the only port capable of off-loading these tanks - in 2015.

Using the information about those two previous tank shipments, I went looking for a civilian cargo ship, either a container ship or a RoRo, that was in transit, or had arrived in Nicaragua, from Russia, and had likely departed in late April or early May.

But what port in Nicaragua would it be going to?

As it turns out, the port of Corinto, which I was familiar with from last years visit by the Fotiy Krylov and the  Marshal Gelovani, is the largest and busiest port in Nicaragua, and the only one in Nicaragua with a 45 Ton crane capable of dead-lifting T-72 tanks (ref and ref), unless the ship used is a RoRo.

So we know how big a ship we need, what sort of a ship could do the job, and where it's likely to go.

How do you find the ship?  AIS, my friend.  Looking on MarineTraffic.com for arrivals and departures from Corinto, I found mention of a general cargo ship called the AMGU, a freshly (red) painted Belize flagged general cargo vessel reportedly owned in 2015 by INDERTON LIMITED S.A., and managed by ACREX CORP., Ltd; both listed with the same address in Vladivostok.  Sounds legit right?  Not just a shell company created to operate ships at arms length from the military or government, Air America-style?

m/v AMGU
m/v AMGU in Vladivostok, 2015
Sergei Skriabin / MarineTraffic.com

Vessel Identification
Flag : Belize
IMO: 9113226
MMSI: 312779000
Callsign: V3NS9

Technical Data
Vessel type: General Cargo
Gross tonnage: 4,015 tons
Summer DWT: 5,910 tons
Engine type: MAN B&W
Power: 3310 kw (6620.0000 hp)

Source: http://maritimetelegraph.com/amgu-imo-9113226.html

The m/v AMGU left Vladivostok on May 5th 2016 at 17:04UTC, and arrived at Corinto Nicaragua on June 5th.  She left again on June 9th at 04:39LT, reportedly heading for Vladivostok, after being in port for just over three days.

One more thing that makes me suspect these facts all line up; the Russians established a training base (Mariscal Georgy Konstantinovich Zhúkov) at the Nicaraguan mechanized Infantry Brigade (BIM) in Managua in 2013, which is only a few hours from the Port of Corinto; where the tanks are expected to be initially deployed to.  I think it all lines up, so my money is on the tanks being transported by the m/v AMGU.

(I'm unclear if there are multiple ships named "AMGU"; here is another)

Here is more video; including the modernized T-72 in action at the Russian Arms Expo in 2013.

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