On August 10th, the authorities of the Ukrainian port of Kherson seized the Russian tanker Mekhanik Pogodin from leaving.
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) blocked the Russian tanker by claiming that its owner is on a list of sanctions imposed by Kiev. The captain of the vessel said the tanker ships diesel from Turkeminstan to Ukraine under contract with Canada’s Oil Marine Shipping and Chartering, while Unicredit Bank Austria was the cargo manager at the Kherson port.
The vessel is owned by VEB-Leasing, part of Russian banking group VEB and among Russian companies subject to sanctions imposed by Ukraine in May as a response to “Russian aggression in Ukraine”. It is leased by V.F. Tanker. VEB-Leasing as well as the Russian Ministry of transport have declined to comment, as cited by Reuters.
The ship was issued a three-day ban from leaving the port, however on August 15th the vessel’s operating company V.F.Tanker in a statement said that the ship is still prohibited from leaving after the ban’s expiry.
“The three-day ban issued by the port authorities expired on the night of August 13 but on the morning of August 14, when the recipient companies – Maddox SA (Switzerland) and Maddox Ukraine (Ukraine) – once again tried to clear the vessel’s cargo, the customs service rejected their request without providing any comment,” the statement says. “The port authorities issued another ban to prohibit the vessel from leaving the port, citing Article 91 of the Merchant Maritime Code and a letter of the Ukrainian State Border Service. However, there have been no violations in this case that could possibly prompt the port authorities to employ the code,” the company added, as cited by TASS.
The company also claims that the Ukrainian’s Border Service’s letter about a new ban was not presented to the captain. The company also commented that “it cannot be viewed otherwise than a formal excuse to extend the illegal detention of the Russian vessel at the Kherson port.”
“No inspections took place when the vessel entered the port, there have also been no inspections during the four days of its detention, and no claims have been made concerning any violations that the vessel or its crew could have committed,” the statement adds. “The port authorities and customs service have been notified that the vessel’s detention was groundless and illegal and could entail liability for damages,” the company adds. “The port authorities and customs service have been notified that the vessel’s detention was groundless and illegal and could entail liability for damages,” the V.F.Tanker company pointed out, adding that the move was “a violation of the International Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to the Arrest of Sea-going Ships.”
Reuters also cited other Russian shipowners, who are not under sanctions have stopped shipping to Ukrainian ports due to fear of losing their cargo. “Of course we won’t go to Ukraine, we have suspended the shipments for now. If needs be, we will be searching for other destinations,” an anonymous shipping industry source told Reuters.
The recent developments have come amid the growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea.
In May, Ukraine imposed sanctions on more than 700 mostly Russian companies. They include banks, transport, media and defense companies. They are banned from doing trade in Ukraine and their assets and property in the country were to be seized.
On March 25th, Ukraine’s coast guard detained Nord, a Russian Fishing boat in the Sea of Azov, accusing the crew of entering “territory, which has been under a temporary occupation.” Reuters reported that the crew was released, however the boat is still detained as of August 15th.
Ukraine has seized the Russian tanker at the port of Kherson, which is a Black Sea port in the delta of Dnieper river. That is a part of the Black Sea where Russia has not increased in presence in the recent months.
The increase in Russian presence has happened in the Sea of Azov where on March 25th the Ukrainian Coast Guard seized Nord, a fishing vessel under the Russian flag in the territorial waters of Russia. Russia’s attempts to solve the issue of the detained ship and its crew via diplomatic channels were all rejected by Ukraine.
This prompted Russia to increase its presence in the Sea of Azov dramatically, which as of July 27th numbered 40 military boats and 2 small missile ships. With their increased presence, Russia has put under its control all maritime traffic proceeding to and from the Ukrainian ports in Berdyansk and Mariupol through the Kerch strait. In addition to pressuring the Ukrainian government in releasing the Nord and its crew, the increased presence more than likely has the purpose of increasing the security measures in the area after the launch of the Kerch Strait Bridge, which links Crimea to the Russian mainland.
Ukraine appear to be attempting to target Russian vessels outside of the Sea of Azov, outside of the reach of the increased Russian military presence within it. Judging by the response to the seizure of the Nord it may be expected that Russia may lead to Russia making moves to further increase the pressure on Ukraine via the Sea of Azov or beyond.