Armed conflict paralyses shipping in Sea of Azov

Commercial shipping on the Ukraine side of the Sea of Azov paralysed due to military standoff with Russia. (Credit: Norman Einstein)

Russia blocked Ukraine ports in the Sea of Azov, Eastern Europe, for at least 10 days beginning 4 December 2018, following a military standoff on the border. Russia seized three Ukrainian naval ships and their crew on 25 November, accusing them of illegally entering its territorial waters. This prompted Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko to introduce martial law on part of the country claimed to be “most vulnerable to Russian attack”, including Ukraine territorial waters in the Sea of Azov. The president called for ‘Western’ support and asked for a Nato presence to stop Russia blocking its ports.

The moves paralysed commercial shipping on the Ukraine side of the Sea of Azov for two weeks at the time of writing, affecting the Mariupol and Berdyansk sea ports. Speaking at a press conference, Volodymyr Omelyan, Ukraine infrastructure minister, described the ports as “vital for the economy of the eastern Ukraine”. In particular, the Russia-Ukraine conflict disrupted grain exports to Turkey and the European Union, according to the Ukraine Grain Association. Ukraine agricultural producers export 2 million tonnes of grain per year through the sea ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk.

This figure has been higher in previous years because Russia requires all ships passing through the Kerch Strait, that connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, to pay a fee, which has discouraged numerous companies from using the trade route, according to Nikolay Gorbachev, president of the Ukraine Grain Association.

As of 4 December 2018, shipping in the Sea of Azov was partly unblocked.

During a press conference in major Black Seaport Sevastopol, Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Poklonsky confirmed the negative impact restricting the free flow of shipping in the Sea of Azov. He is unclear why following the armed conflict and introduction of the martial law, “Ukraine authorities act like nothing has happened, and [is] astonished that there are restrictions on shipping for Ukraine vessels in the Azov Sea”