May 12 (UPI) -- The U.S. ambassador to South Africa accused the country's administration on Thursday of loading a banned Russian cargo ship with arms in violation of sanctions.
Reuben Brigety II told local media that arms and ammunition were delivered to the ship Lady R at the Simon's Town naval base when it was docked there from Dec. 6-8 before it went back to Russia.
Russia was 10 months into its invasion of Ukraine at the time with reports surfacing that it was struggling to make advances against a stronger-than-expected defense by Kyiv.
"We are confident that weapons were loaded onto that vessel, and I would bet my life on the accuracy on that assertion," Brigety said. "The arming of the Russians is extremely serious, and we do not consider this issue to be resolved, and we would like SA to [begin] practicing its non-alignment policy."
The United States had sanctioned the Lady R and other Russian cargo vessels last May for allegedly transporting weapons.
John Steenhuisen, the leader of South Africa's leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, chided the South African government after Brigety's comments.
"[Brigety's comments are] a chilling and deeply troubling confirmation that President Cyril Ramaphosa and his government are actively involved in the Russian Federation's war on Ukraine," Steenhuisen said.
While not outright denying Brigety's allegations, Ramaphosa's administration called the ambassador's comments "disappointing" and said it was investigating the charges.
"It is public knowledge that a Russian vessel known as Lady R docked in South Africa," said Vincent Magwenya, a spokesperson for Ramaphosa said in a statement. "Allegations have since been made about the purpose of the voyage. While no evidence has been provided to date to support these allegations, the government has undertaken to institute an independent inquiry to be led by a retired judge."
Magwenya said allegations around the Lady R in South Africa had already been discussed between South African and U.S. officials and there was an agreement that "an investigation will be allowed to run its course."