The chief executive of sanctioned leading Russian tanker owner Sovcomflot has made an impassioned appeal to seafarers on board its 140 ships for loyalty as the company battles the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Igor Tonkovidov promised his seafarers that all wages would be paid in full despite tough sanctions against both the owner and the Russian financial system that have seen Russian banks barred from the international SWIFT payment system.

He promised to ensure seafarers are repatriated as fast as possible and that their health and safety remain a priority.

“Dear Colleagues, today the stability of the company’s work more than ever depends on the efforts of each employee at sea and on shore,” Tonkovidov wrote in a recently published internal company newsletter.

“The company rightly considers you professionals of the highest class, highly appreciates your work, dedication, and loyalty to the profession. I ask you to maintain these qualities and conscientiously fulfil your duties.”

The article in Russian and bylined with a photograph of Tonkovidov is one of the few articles not carried in an English-language version of the same newsletter.

Sovcomflot faces pressure from unprecedented sanctions on a major and otherwise reputable tanker and LNG carrier owner. It cannot raise capital in the US, Western banks and classification societies are unwinding relationships, and protection and indemnity cover has been withdrawn.

Sovcomflot last week disputed analysis from technology firm Windward that claimed to show that some of its ships had carried out “dark activity” when vessels turn off or stop transmitting AIS data.

Tonkovidov’s letter did not mention the invasion of Ukraine, or specifically refer to sanctions. “Today Russia is under ever-increasing economic pressure. Several major domestic banks and companies, including SCF, are subject to restrictions,” he wrote.

Today Russia is under ever-increasing economic pressure. Several major domestic banks and companies, including SCF, are subject to restrictions

— Igor Tonkovidov

It had forced the company to make “prompt decisions” to maintain operations, finance, timely payment of salaries and repatriation of crew.

“Despite these restrictions, the company continues to work on the sea transport of energy, fulfilling its obligations to customers and partners. At the same time, care for crew members and employees of coastal units, their health and safety remain an absolute priority for us,” he said.

Tonkovidov is a marine engineer by training who dreamt of going to sea from the age of 14 and spent six years as a seafarer, mostly on bulkers in the Russian Far East, before moving into management.

In 2019, he became chief executive in succession to Sergey Frank, who stepped up to chairman, continuing the company’s championing of crew welfare, high standards and safety.

Tonkovidov lead Sovcomflot’s successful flotation on the Moscow stock exchange in 2020, in a deal that saw 17% of the company pass into private hands. The remaining 83% is held by the Russian state.

VTB Capital, Citigroup Global Markets, Sberbank CIB, JP Morgan and BofA Securities acted as joint global coordinators and joint bookrunners, and ING Bank was co-manager.

Former Lloyd’s Register and Braemar chairman David Moorhouse was on the board of Sovcomflot from 2010 until last year, when Russians replaced overseas directors.

Among those who joined was Olga Dergunova, deputy president and chairman of VTB Bank, the major Russian lender also hit by severe Western sanctions.

Among others on the board are an assistant to the first deputy prime minister, and the deputy ministers of transport, energy and finance, reflecting Sovcomflot’s pivotal strategic role.

Tonkovidov reassured staff they would be paid. “I want to assure you that the company will fulfil all its obligations to you. Each of you, regardless of the circumstances, will receive the wages due to him in full. The company also took prompt action to ensure the timely repatriation of crew members.

“The repatriation logistics chain has been adjusted due to restrictions imposed by some countries on direct flights with Russia, however, to date, not a single crew change has been cancelled due to flight restrictions.”