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Ukraine: German cargo ships stuck in conflict zone

March 2, 2022

A German association has called on Russia to not attack ships stuck in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov amid the Kremlin-backed invasion of Ukraine. Several civilian vessels have already been caught in the crossfire.

People walks on a beach in the Black Sea of Odessa
Russia has ramped up its naval presence in the Black Sea, a possible threat to commercial ships in the regionImage: Oleksandr Gimanov/AFP

Around 100 cargo ships are reportedly unable to depart from their ports in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the German Shipowners' Association (VDR) said Wednesday.

What do we know so far?

A VDR spokesperson said many of the trapped ships operate under German flags, but also noted that vast numbers of the crews hailed from either Russia or Ukraine. The shipping industry is a notoriously international one often with crews from multiple different countries on a single vessel.

"People from dozens of different countries work and live aboard the ships of the German fleet — among them thousands of Ukrainian and Russian mariners," VDR head Gaby Bornheim said.

She urged Russia to spare ships in the conflict region from an attack. 

"We demand that all ship crews are able to leave the region unharmed," Bornheim said. "Russia must respect the freedom of navigation. Uninvolved ships must not be attacked."

The association said the ships were unable to cast off, as there were no tugs. The VDR also warned that waters in the region could be potentially mined, another danger for the crews. 

Multiple ships already damaged by reported Russian attacks in region

Some ships not involved in the combat between Russia and Ukraine have already been caught in the crossfire. 

A Japanese ship, the Namura Queen, was reportedly hit by a Russian missile in the Black Sea last week. Shipowner Nikko Kisen K.K. said the vessel was damaged and the attack injured one Filipino crewmember onboard.

A Moldovan-flagged ship, the Millennial Spirit, was also attacked by a Russian naval vessel last week. Moldova's naval agency said two Russian crewmembers onboard the ship were "seriously injured" from the attack.

Turkish-owned carrier Yasa Jupiter was recently hit with a bomb near the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, but Turkey's Maritime General Directorate said there were no casualties. 

Erdogan: Turkey restricts access to the Black Sea

Russia engaged in a naval buildup in the Black Sea prior to the invasion. Commercial ships in the region could be exposed, as NATO has been criticized for not bolstering its presence there to compete with Russia. 

Meanwhile, NATO member Turkey has taken steps to deny extra Russian warships from passing through its straits to the Black Sea, under the Montreux Convention. 

According to the VDR, just under 200,000 Russians work on ships around the world, along with 76,000 Ukrainians. The two nationalities together comprise 14.5% of the estimated 1.89 million seafarers globally. 

wd/msh (Reuters, dpa)