More than 500 crew members remain trapped in Ukrainian ports following the Russian invasion, according to the latest figures from the International Maritime Organization.
Speaking at the opening of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) meeting, secretary general Kitack Lim admitted that plans to establish a “blue safe maritime corridor” for ships trapped by the war have failed to get off the ground.
He said that although Russia had agreed to establish safe passage for ships outside Ukraine waters, mines and sunken wrecks are keeping vessels and their crew trapped in the region.
“Sea mines have been laid in port approaches and some port exits are blocked by sunken barges and cranes. Many ships no longer have sufficient crew onboard to sail,” Lim told the MSC meeting.
Ukraine is demanding an end to the war, and the withdrawal of Russian troops, before it will guarantee safe passage from its Black Sea and Sea of Azov ports.
“With this in mind, our priority has been to support seafarers stranded in Ukraine,” Lim said.
The secretary general’s special advisor on maritime security, Peter Adams, said there were 2,000 seafarers stranded on 94 vessels in Ukrainian ports at the outbreak of conflict.
The numbers have now reduced to 84 merchant ships and 500 seafarers, with an estimated 1,500 seafarers making it back home.
Adams said in many cases local ship keepers have been put in place after crews returned home. Some vessels have been put into cold lay-up, with no crew members remaining aboard.
The IMO’s Lim and director general of the International Labour Organization Gilbert Houngbo have jointly written to the heads of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. They have requested urgent assistance to send vital provisions to the stranded ships.
The IMO is also monitoring the ports of Mariupol, Kherson and Mykolaiv, where fighting is heaviest.
Adams said the IMO had received reports of a missile strike on a vessel at Mykolaiv this week.
The IMO secretariat is liaising closely with Russia and Ukraine, other states on the Black Sea, flag states and other key stakeholders in the region to address safety and security, and to offer support for seafarers and shipping.
An online stranded ships form has been set up for seafarers to use and report the situation of their ships and crew directly to the IMO.