Seafarers innocent collateral damage in Ukraine conflict

The director-general of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Guy Ryder, today condemned “the unprovoked and unjustifiable attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine conducted without regard to international law, and the continuing loss of life, and immense human suffering that it is inflicting on the people of Ukraine”.

Ryder joined the General Assembly of the United Nations in deploring in the strongest terms the aggression by Russia against Ukraine, with many seafarers caught up in the unfolding conflict too. Thus far, Splash has reported on five merchant ships being hit in the Black Sea in the opening nine days of the war, including yesterday’s sinking of an Estonian ship.

According to the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, the 2,100 dwt Helt was taken hostage by the Russian Navy yesterday to “use it as a shield in order to hide behind it from the Ukrainian anti-ship weapons.”

On Wednesday the Bangladeshi-owned bulker Banglar Samriddhi was struck by a missile in Ukrainian waters, killing one of its crew members, the first confirmed death of a merchant seafarer during this war. The remaining 28 seafarers of the Banglar Samriddhi have since abandoned the ship and Bangladeshi officials are making efforts to repatriate the crew.

“This stands among the darkest chapters in the ILO’s century long history and a brutal repudiation of our organisation’s mission to promote peace through social justice. Those responsible for the aggression know full well that among its first victims will be working people and that the devastation of jobs, enterprises and livelihoods will be massive and endure for many years,” Ryder said today.

Ryder’s counterpart at the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Kitack Lim, has made repeated calls to ensure merchant shipping is kept safe during the conflict.

“Along with the people of Ukraine, innocent ships, seafarers and port workers engaged in legitimate trade should not be adversely impacted by this growing crisis. Shipping, particularly seafarers, cannot be collateral victims in a larger political and military crisis – they must be safe and secure,” Lim said last weekend.

The IMO announced today it will hold an extraordinary session of its council to address the impacts on shipping and seafarers caught up in the conflict around the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

The extraordinary session, due late next week, was convened following requests from several council members.  

The Joint Negotiating Group (JNG) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) on Wednesday designated areas in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov as Warlike Operations Areas triggering an increased security level and other entitlements for seafarers in the war zone.

International maritime charity Sailors’ Society yesterday launched a Ukrainian Crisis Appeal to support desperate seafarers caught up in the conflict. 

While most international charities are facing the land, concentrating their efforts on the growing refugee crisis as Ukrainians flee the fighting, Sailors’ Society is there for the 75,000 Ukrainian seafarers, who may be many thousands of miles from loved ones – anxious and powerless to help.  

Sailors’ Society’s CEO Sara Baade said:  “I have been talking to our chaplains about their conversations with those affected. All are extremely concerned for the safety of their families. Some are frightened to return to their country, as they know it will mean taking up arms. Many sob as they talk about their fears and frustrations. This is tearing them apart.”

Demand for maritime connectivity has escalated over the past week as seafarers clamour to call home, reports digital communications specialist IEC Telecom. The company advised today that its usage figures for the past month show maritime comms traffic has risen by 30%, most of it over the previous seven days and attributable to extra calls to Ukraine.

More and more dockworkers around the world are refusing to load or unload any Russian cargo with US west coast ports the latest to join the protest movements which has already garnered support in Canada, Australasia and across much of Europe.

For all the news on how the invasion of Ukraine is affecting global shipping, check out Splash’s dedicated coverage here.

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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