London, Friday, 04 March 2022
In response to international calls for action, the UN's International Maritime Organization has stated that an extraordinary council session will be held to discuss the effects of the situation in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov on ships and seafarers.
The decision comes as fears rise for the safety of mariners caught in the region, particularly near Odesa, which analysts believe could be the target of an impending amphibious and land assault, according to analysts.
The first merchant ship to be sunk in the conflict was sunk this week, as was the first verified death of a seafarer killed by a missile attack while on watch aboard a ship docked off the coast of Ukraine.
The IMO member states have a broad list of dangers to discuss. Ukraine blocked its seaports, essentially detaining merchant ships without the ability to sail due to the lack of services such as tugs and harbour pilots, and putting a burden on the ships' capacity to restock.
Security specialists have encouraged ships capable of departing to withdraw outside the newly defined "warlike area" in the northern Black Sea, while NATO has warned that the waterways around Ukraine may be mined.
Thousands of Ukrainian and Russian seafarers are away from home working at sea, as well as seafarers in the fighting zone who will be unable to reach their ships' tasks.
Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim expressed his "grave concern" about the "spillover impacts" of the military operation on global shipping. Lim then issued a statement saying, "I totally support and stand with UN Secretary-General António Guterres' appeal for hostilities to cease immediately," but the IMO, like the UN, can only comment and adopt resolutions for the protection of seafarers.
The IMO's session will take place remotely on March 10 and 11. The IMO Council is made up of 40 countries that have been elected to represent the global maritime community, but other countries, including Ukraine, will be entitled to submit statements.
The news of the meeting comes as Bloomberg reports that 140 ships are now stalled in or near Ukrainian ports. Around 100 cargo ships were unable to leave their ports in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, according to the German Shipowners' Association.
According to Bloomberg, each of the huge ocean-going ships has an average crew of 20 people, "implying that well over 1,000 seafarers would be stranded." It's unclear if they included smaller, coastal and regional cargo ships like the Helt, which sank with a crew of six on board yesterday. All of the ship's crew was rescued, according to Estonian officials.
Like many other international organizations, the German Shipowners' Association (VDR) criticized Russia's war on Ukraine, urging Russia to protect merchant ships and sailors.
"We demand that all ships and their crews be allowed to leave the crisis zone unharmed," VDR President Gaby Bornheim stated. The freedom of navigation must be respected by Russia. Merchant ships that are not involved in the conflict must not be assaulted."
Action has been taken by several countries and shipping corporations. There had been requests for Bangladesh's sailors to be evacuated from the conflict zone.
The country's Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Shipping acted after the third engineer aboard the Banglar Samriddhi was killed in the missile strike on Wednesday.
The 28 crew members and the engineer's body were evacuated from the ship, which was abandoned, and transferred to a secure area. They were arranging for the seamen to be transported to Moldova or another adjacent country before being repatriated to Romania.
(Research and editing by: The Decision Maker – Maritime editors)