Commercial ships in the Sea of Azov to acquire protection

A ship of the Ukrainian Navy in the Azov Sea. Credit: REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Ukraine is in talks with NATO over the possible deployment of naval vessels to escort Ukrainian ships through the Kerch Strait. This would be to protect commercial shipping lines from Russian interference, commented Alexander Turchinov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council.

NATO is set to guarantee safe passage of the ships via the Kerch Strait, connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. There are even discussions to step up aerial surveillance in the area, US ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, told journalists during a press conference in early April.

This would be in response to the customs inspection regime introduced by the Russian authorities in the Kerch Strait since November 2018, which has allegedly disrupted traffic to the Ukraine’s seaports.

During a press conference in Moscow, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov has voiced Russia’s concerns over the potential outcome of the talks.

Russian actions in the Kerch Strait are said to be in line with “international law” and Russia’s stance on the conflict with Ukraine “is very consistent and is well-known”, Peskov said. However, he did not specify whether Russian authorities would try to conduct inspections of Ukrainian ships escorted by NATO.

In addition to inspections, Ukrainian trade ships have experienced difficulties in the Azov-Black Sea Basin from GPS jamming. According to a study conducted by the US Center For Advanced Defense, over the past two years almost 10,000 cases where GPS trackers of various vessels were jammed allegedly from Russian-controlled areas.

It was reported that due to these Russian GPS jammers some Ukrainian skippers found their vessels to be located around 40 km deep inland when checking their GPS status. This is especially dangerous for commercial ships, as GPS navigation is one of the important tools to ensure their safety. The ships could be led off course and could even collide under low-visibility conditions. Fortunately, no such incident has occurred yet.