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Ukraine flags up ongoing maritime harassment by Russia

IMO representative says Russia has impeded shipping to and from Ukrainian ports and subjected ships to lengthy and ‘unreasonable’ inspections since the Crimea invasion

Ukraine says tensions with Russia have so far not affected commercial shipping to its Black Sea ports

UKRAINE has accused Russia of waging economic war at sea since the 2014 Crimea invasion, including impeding commercial shipping.

As tensions between the two countries mount, Lloyd’s List has reported that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would disrupt Europe’s gas supply, cut dry bulk exports from the Black Sea, and worsen a crewing shortage by making it harder to employ Ukrainian and Russian crews.

Yevgen Lisuchenko, Ukraine’s deputy permanent representative to the International Maritime Organization, said tensions had so far not affected commercial shipping or the working of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports.

Russia “continues to wage economic war by impeding cargo shipping to and from Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea, by blocking the passage of commercial vessels, misusing the Solas [Safety of Life at Sea] Convention in order to derail navigation, spoofing GPS signals, [and] taking control of the region’s maritime spaces”, he said in an interview.

Mr Lisuchenko said Russia had regularly closed parts of the Black Sea adjacent to Crimea and the Azov Sea, sealed access to the Kerch Strait under the pretext of military exercises, and suspended innocent passage without legitimate grounds, adding the situation had worsened since April 2021.

He said non-Russian ships coming to and from the Azov Sea were subjected to lengthy and unreasonable inspections in breach of the FAL Convention.

In the second half of 2021 there were more than 600 illegal stoppages of ships passing the Kerch Strait while heading to or from the Ukrainian ports of Mariupol and Berdiansk. The inspections caused an average delay of between one and three days, up to as much as a week.

“This inflicts significant costs to the crews, shipowners [and] operators, as well as flag states of the commercial vessels that Russia has harassed,” he said.

Ukraine said Russia had denied merchant shipping access to a quarter of the Black Sea and 70% of the Azov Sea.

The measures cut international sea trade through Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea by 3.2m tonnes and had “a dramatic impact” on the socioeconomic situation in the occupied region, Mr Lisuchenko said.

Russia’s IMO delegation declined to comment, referring questions to the Transport Ministry close to publishing deadline.

Ukraine has used various IMO meetings to protest against Russia’s occupation of Crimea at the IMO over the years. Russia has denied wrongdoing and said the dispute is outside the IMO’s remit.

In 2020, Lloyd’s List reported ships were flag-hopping multiple times to call at Crimean ports in breach of Western sanctions.

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