Sharks Flown in from Sri Lanka for Turkmen President’s Oceanarium

Now that regular passenger flights have been interrupted because of COVID-19, Turkmenistan Airlines transports freight from Bangkok and Beijing to Frankfurt. The planes always make a stopover in Turkmenabat. But on April 26 a Turkmen Boeing 777 made an unusual flight to Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka.

Turkmen plane flying from Colombo to Turkmenbashi. See below the route of regular cargo flight

No Turkmen plane had ever flown to Colombo before. When the aircraft returned to Turkmenistan, it landed in the port city of Turkmenbashi, rather than Turkmenabat. has learnt from two separate sources that the plane was bringing live sharks to Turkmenistan.

The first report came from a source at Turkmenbashi airport, who said that the live cargo weighed three tons in total.

“There were a lot of sharks, but they were small. They were in a special tank of water,” the source said.

A source in one of the country’s ministries confirmed the report, describing the cargo as “sharp-toothed fish”. The fish are destined for the personal oceanarium of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, according to the ministry source.

There are not known to be any public oceanariums with the capacity to house sharks in Turkmenbashi or at the Avaza resort. So it seems highly plausible that the sharks are for the head of state, who could have facilities of any kind at his residence.

April 29 flight from Frankfurt to Turkmenistan. The plane landed in Turkmenabat. Slide for more images
April 24 flight from Beijing to Turkmenistan. The plane landed in Turkmenabat. Slide for more images
April 29 flight from Bangkok. The plane landed in Turkmenabat

Berdimuhamedov often issues secret decrees making state enterprises pay for his own requirements. In March published documents showing that in 2017 the president had forced the Turkmenbashi oil refineries to pay out of their own funds for major renovations to two palaces (state residences) on the Caspian coast. The work cost $5.6 million. Earlier, in 2012, the president instructed the Turkmenbashi oil refineries to pay $8.7 million to build an amphitheater. It emerged later that the theater had been erected at the presidential weekend retreat. Why not build an oceanarium there too?

Turkmenistan is currently going through the toughest economic crisis of the independence years. The country is experiencing a severe shortage of foodstuffs, a sharp increase in prices, and a lack of cash. The market exchange rate for the Turkmen currency is 10 times higher than the official rate. Clearly, this presents no obstacle to meeting the president’s most expensive whims, though.