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In pictures — a whole lot of fokol being loaded on to the Lady R

In pictures — a whole lot of fokol being loaded on to the Lady R
Russian cargo ship Lady R leaves Simon’s Town on Friday, 9 December 2022. (Photo: Supplied)

The Russian cargo ship which docked in Simon’s Town in December 2022 has thrust South Africa’s relationship with Russia into the limelight. We take a look at what photographs reveal about the Lady R’s time here.

A Russian-registered roll-on/roll-off (Ro-Ro) cargo vessel set sail from Douala, Cameroon, on 23 November 2022, headed for Dar es Salaam. Maritime monitoring data showed the ship had sailed eastwards past Simon’s Town, and was already south of Cape Agulhas, on 5 December 2022. Then, it did an abrupt U-turn.

Tuesday, 6 December 2022 

The vessel, a Russian cargo ship called the Lady R, veered back towards Simon’s Town. This information did not come from maritime data; some residents of the sleepy seaside town saw the ship dock at Simon’s Town Naval Base on Tuesday night, 6 December. The ship snuck into the dockyard between 8pm and 10pm, under the convenient cover of rolling blackouts. Its automatic identification system (AIS) — the tracking system capable of providing the position, identity and other information about vessels to coastal authorities — was offline.  

From photographs, it is understood two navy tugboats brought the Lady R into the naval base on Tuesday night. After she docked, multiple witnesses described seeing cargo being loaded off the ship.  

Read more in Daily Maverick: Lady R in South Africa

Russian cargo ship Lady R is brought into Simon’s Town Naval Base by two SA Navy tugboats on Tuesday night, 6 December 2022. (Photo: Hugo Attfield)

At the time, there were allegations that the Lady R was a ship in distress, escorted to Simon’s Town as the nearest port. Daily Maverick reported that before the Lady R went silent on AIS, she did communicate with Cape Town’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) saying she had mechanical problems.

However, the US embassy in Pretoria previously told Daily Maverick the embassy had no reason to believe the Lady R was in distress. Spokesperson, David Feldmann told Daily Maverick the US embassy in Pretoria “had previously advised the South African government that the Lady R was planning to stop in South Africa”.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US has placed sanctions on dozens of Russian vessels and shipping companies. The Lady R is among those sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, because the ship is “part of Russia’s military export-import business”. The company with which the ship is linked — Transmorflot — is also sanctioned.

lady r

Lady R is brought into the Simon’s Town Naval Base dockyard by two SA Navy tugboats on Tuesday night, 6 December 2022. (Photo: Hugo Attfield)

Wednesday, 7 December 2022

Residents of Simon’s Town awoke to an unexpected guest on Wednesday morning, 7 December 2022. The Lady R was docked in the South African Navy base. While some activity surrounding the ship was reported during the day, most of the activity occurred at night. Witnesses described seeing mysterious and unidentified cargo being moved both on and off the ship, in a high-security, clandestine operation on Wednesday night.



Russian cargo ship Lady R

Russian cargo ship Lady R in Simon’s Town Naval Base on 7 December 2022. (Photo: Supplied)

Lady R Simon's Town

Lady R (left) docked inside Simon’s Town Naval Base, photographed on Wednesday, 7 December 2022. (Photo: Supplied)

Thursday, 8 December 2022 

Two trucks containing four containers were seen parked at the nearby Glencairn naval sports ground on Thursday, 8 December. The trucks were seen by witnesses entering the Simon’s Town naval dockyard at about 8pm on Thursday night, where the four containers were later loaded on to the Lady R.

Lady R Simon's Town

Container trucks and a crane at the naval sports field in Glencairn on Thursday, 8 December 2022. (Photo: Supplied)

Several Simon’s Town residents observed and photographed cranes loading at least six containers from trucks on to the Lady R at the naval dockyard, just before midnight on Thursday, 8 December. Some residents said they had also seen cranes offloading pallets and crates from the Lady R on to trucks on the quay.

Lady R

Russian-registered cargo ship Lady R, anchored in the Simon’s Town Naval Base on 8 December 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Jaco Marais)

Russian-registered cargo ship Lady R in the Simon’s Town Naval Base on 8 December 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / Die Burger / Jaco Marais)

Lady R thursday 8 December 2022

Russian cargo vessel Lady R in Simon’s Town Naval Base on Thursday, 8 December 2022. (Photo: Supplied)

Friday, 9 December 2022 

Tugboats were seen preparing to move the Lady R out of the harbour at about 6.16am on Friday morning. Several guards were spotted in the dockyard after the navy tugboats arrived at about 6am to later guide the vessel from the harbour.

Lady R leaves

Lady R leaves Simon’s Town Naval Base early on Friday, 9 December 2022. (Photo: Supplied)

Lady R tugboats

Tugboats prepare Lady R before leaving Simon’s Town Naval Base on 9 December 2022. (Photo: Supplied)

After three consecutive nights of highly guarded activity, the Lady R was spotted leaving Simon’s Town Naval Base at about 6.53am on Friday morning. By 8am, she was heading past Cape Point.

Lady R leaves Simon’s Town on the morning of 9 December 2022. (Photo: Supplied)

Lady R leaves Simon’s Town on 9 December 2022. (Photo: Supplied)

Russian cargo ship Lady R leaves Simon’s Town naval base on Friday, 9 December 2022, after three nights of frenzied activity. (Photo: Supplied)

After her dawn departure from Simon’s Town Naval Base, the Lady R had still not shown up on marine monitoring services by 1.43pm on 9 December 2022. DM



Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • David Edwards says:

    If the cargo that was loaded onto (and off of) the ship is legitimate, and the reason for a sanctioned ship docking at a military port under cover of strict security measures is benign, why can’t the government allow a naval spokesperson to present the facts to the public?
    Interesting that the same government that was useless and derelict at preventing and controlling riots in 2021 can provide effective security and cover for a “non-military (civilian)” Russian cargo ship at a naval (military) port…

  • Reg Bray says:

    Maybe we should find out if ‘fokol’ is a new ground breaking missile system for propelling state-of-the-art thermobaric weapons? What an absolute load of horse scat from Chief Of Defensiveness!!! ‘In a bunch of thieves… the LIAR is the King; in this case the ‘Queen’…

  • Paul Hjul says:

    One of the most frustrating things in the coverage of this entire saga is the presumption that the clandestine and unlawful activities of the ANC and Russian entities are wholly about the invasion of Ukraine. It is most improbable that weapons supplied by South Africa are destined for Europe or Asia. The Wagner group is not only operating in Ukraine and Putin’s tentacles of mischief spread accross the globe.

    If South Africans are involved in arming mercenaries who are committing terrorism at the behest of the Russian state in Africa then they need to be criminally charged even if they are cabinet ministers close to the President.

    What needs to be established is not whether the ANC has caused the SA government to act unconstitutionally and deplorably but rather whether the ANC is directing organs of state to be party to criminal activity in Africa at the direction of Putin’s cartel.

    At the moment we know where some manner of item was placed on board the vessel, what we need to find out is where it was offloaded and from there where did it go. I have a strong suspicion that the yanks have a good idea of where things are and are going to play coy for as long as they need to and that as the truth comes out the South African government is going to have a lot more problems that are a lot closer to home.

    DM please start asking South African authorities about each conflict in Africa where weapons are being sourced.

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      Paul, this is an excellent point! The Wagner scum are involved in a number of conflicts in Africa, not least of which is the CAR – where the previous SA regime stationed troops largely to apparently guard the mining rights of the ruling family (ours, not theirs). It would surprise nobody if we were arming either Wagner or their allied militias there with top up weapons from what we left behind. Russia is building a ‘logistics centre’ in Eritrea and a naval base in Sudan, which would be able to access the CAR through Sudan.

      • Bill Gild says:


      • Bill Gild says:

        All things considered – esp. the fact that SA has declared the manifest “classified” – there is no doubt in my mind that our government, such as it is, was up to mischief.

      • Kb1066 . says:

        I agree with you, I was in Asmara last month and the only hotel there, the Asmara Palace had a lot of ‘USSR’ (their description of themselves) citizens living there and partying up a storm

    • Allan Wolman Wolman says:

      Modise doing fokol in Russia last year, the ANCYL doing fokol on their fact finding trip to Russia last year, Sergei Lavrov doing fokol here earlier this year and our navy doing fokol with the Russian and Chinese navy. And the Lady R loading fokol in Simons Town then cruising up east coast of Africa just weeks before all the trouble in Sudan….. Maar dis al fokol

  • mossie66 says:

    If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s a fokol.

  • Keith Scott says:

    Unlike Margaret Thatcher the Lady R was for turning.

  • Petrus Kleinhans says:

    In the land of fokol the fokolosi is king.

  • Ludovici DIVES says:

    The ANC and it’s leaders have proven to the world their double standards, lies, corruption, inability to govern and complete disregard for the people of South Africa.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    I’ve asked the question before – whatever happened to Ghadaffi’s vast treasure trove? The last time we all knew where it was, was in the possession of Jacob Zuma.

    Hence I think we all ought to know the answer as it belongs not to us, not the ANC, not Jacob Zuma, but morally to the Libyan people.

    But I do wonder if that was what was in the four containers ……

    • D'Esprit Dan says:

      I really don’t think that if Zuma had Ghaddafi’s loot that he would willingly part with it, closeness to Russia or not. More to the point, we’ve seen for decades that as soon as Zuma has money he blows it and ends up with a begging bowl to ‘benefactors’ in low places.

  • Thomas Risi says:

    Oh Dear Minister. We beleave you that Fokal was loaded. Beware the rath of the people if and when you get caught out.

  • Karl Stott says:

    6 containers (or even just 4) is a lot of fokol’s. For a small country like this, surely one needs a permit to crate and move so many fokols. I hope they had the required police, environmental and sars approval to sell all these fokols. Some in government might not give fokol to anyone else including its citizens or major economic partners, unless they are friends then they get crates of them

  • Gregory Scott says:

    Any level of skulduggery is possible here. The imagination of the average citizen does not stretch far enough.
    I think that the Americans know exactly what was loaded and unloaded and where the offloaded goods were delivered to. They are playing their cards close to their chest and these ANC Cadres are being given enough rope to hang themselves and then boom, the Americans will drop the fact bombs.
    Can’t wait

    • bigbad jon says:

      I wouldn’t hold my breath expecting the yanks to reveal all.. Especially not considering how the Biden admin. has managed to stuff up the military, the FBI and CIA. Good SA journalism (as espoused by DM for example) should’ve been chasing these containers in both directions to find out their destinations and what they contained. It’s 5 mo ago so it probably didn’t happen.

  • Greg de Bruyn says:

    Maybe they were just returning the empties – roubles for the ANC election campaign.

  • Willem van der Walt says:

    What happened to the containers of arms/ammunition that was stolen from the Durban harbour during the riots??

  • David Forbes says:

    If SA was expecting munitions ordered previously from Russia for our special forces, why did the US embassy claim to “warn SA” that the Lady R would dock? They must have known. Who exactly made the allegations that the Lady R was “in distress”? “. . . mysterious and unidentified cargo being moved both on and off the ship”??? Why describe cargo as “mysterious and unidentified” when all cargo being offloaded from ships is usually not identifiable? Two trucks with 4 containers waiting, then 6 containers “loaded onto” Lady R. OK, so there are no registration numbers? No-one traced the ownership of the trucks? Photographed the container numbers? I thought this was all so “suspicious” that the “watchers” of the naval harbour would have taken some proper pictures. Where did the pallets and crates go? Vehicles? No ID? Dunno, there are a lot of unanswered questions, and a lot of questions that were clearly NOT ASKED. Sounds like a bit of “hack job” has been done here. Why will no-one accept the possibility that it was legit? Prejudice, that’s why.

  • David Mitchley says:

    Me thinks that there is “fokol” going on at both Loothuli House and in the disUnion Buildings in Pretoria.

  • Geoff Woodruff says:

    Simple logic dictates that if you have nothing to hide then why hide it? This was obviously an illegal operation first, because of the clandestine nature of the offloading and onloading procedures and then the flat the denials from the minister of defenseless. To add insult to injury the government then tells us that the documents are classified. The Americans have bust our government and I still believe that they’re sitting on some very damning evidence that they will produce at, what they consider to be, the appropriate time for them. Much more going to come from this sorry tale.

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