Concern mounts for crew stranded in Mariupol

Concern is mounting for the stranded crew in the besieged port of Mariupol as fighting in the city – and near the quayside – has ramped up with thousands of civilians dead and unconfirmed reports that Russian forces have used chemical weapons in the area.

Russia was accused yesterday by Ukrainian forces of dropping chemical weapons via a drone on Mariupol. UK foreign secretary Liz Truss tweeted: “Reports that Russian forces may have used chemical agents in an attack on the people of Mariupol. We are working urgently with partners to verify details. Any use of such weapons would be a callous escalation in this conflict and we will hold Putin and his regime to account.”

Mariupol is in ruins with local officials saying around 90% of the city has been destroyed and the death toll is thought to be in excess of 10,000.

“Mariupol has been destroyed, there are tens of thousands of dead, but even despite this, the Russians are not stopping their offensive,” Ukraine President Zelenskiy said last night. The city’s mayor said the death toll was somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000.

There are around 100,000 people still trapped in the city, surrounded by Russian forces. Prior to the February 24 invasion, the port city had a population of just shy of 400,000.

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister Iryna Vereshchuk said today nine humanitarian corridors will open across the country to allow civilians to evacuate, including from Mariupol.

Pro-Russian militias on Monday claimed to have captured the port area of the city, something that has since been denied by Ukrainian forces as fighting goes on.

Ukrainian officials said yesterday that the Russian military had seized the crew of the Liberian-flagged, 15,698 dwt bulk carrier Smarta. Ambrey Intelligence reported today Russian forces arrested 16 Ukrainian sailors, one Egyptian sailor and the wife of the master of the vessel who was onboard at the time. The ship had been fired on before it was boarded, becoming the 11th confirmed merchant ship strike since the invasion began 48 days ago. The whereabouts of the crew are unknown, while the ship remains docked at the western end of Mariupol’s port.

The heads of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) called on Friday for urgent action to protect seafarers and vessels stranded in Ukrainian ports and nearby waters.

In a joint letter to the heads of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), ILO director-general, Guy Ryder and IMO secretary-general, Kitack Lim, outlined the plight of seafarers on more than 100 trading vessels who are unable to leave the ports of Ukraine and nearby waters. According to the IMO, as many as 1,000 seafarers are trapped.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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