IMO convenes extraordinary session as seafarers remain stuck in Ukraine
Responding to international calls for action, the United Nations International Maritime Organization has announced that it will convene a special session of the council to address the impacts on shipping and seafarers of the situation in the Black Sea and the Atlantic Sea. ‘Azov. The move comes as fear grows for the safety of sailors trapped in the region and particularly near Odessa, which analysts say could be the target of an imminent amphibious and ground assault.
This week saw the first merchant ship sunk during the conflict and the first confirmed death of a sailor killed by a missile attack while on watch aboard a ship anchored off Ukraine. There is a long list of hazards that IMO member states need to discuss. Ukraine has closed its seaports, effectively trapping merchant ships without services such as tugboats and port pilots to depart and straining the ability to resupply ships. NATO has warned that the waters around Ukraine could well be mined while security analysts have urged vessels able to leave to move outside the newly declared ‘war zone’ in the northern sea Black. Equally worrying are the thousands of Ukrainian and Russian sailors who work at sea far from their homes, as well as sailors in the combat zone who will not be able to join their work on board ships.
After the start of the Russian assault on Ukraine on February 24, IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim said he was “seriously concerned about the fallout of military action in Ukraine on global shipping” . Then, as the humanitarian crisis continued to unfold, Lim issued a statement saying “I fully support and support UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ call for an immediate cessation of hostilities”, but IMO as the UN can only comment and take resolutions for the safety of seafarers.
The IMO session will be held on March 10 and 11 in a remote session. The council is made up of 40 countries elected to represent the global maritime community, but other nations, including Ukraine, will be able to submit statements to the IMO Council.
The news of the session comes as a Bloomberg analysis estimates that there are 140 ships currently stuck in or near Ukrainian ports. The Association of German Shipowners estimated a similar number of around 100 cargo ships unable to leave their Black Sea and Sea of Azov ports.
Bloomberg calculates that each of the large ocean-going ships has an average of 20 crew members “implying that more than 1,000 sailors would be stranded.” It is unclear whether they also included smaller coastal and regional cargo ships, such as the Helt sunk yesterday with a crew of six on board. Estonian officials reported that the entire crew of the ship had been rescued.
The Association of German Shipowners (VDR), like many global organizations, has condemned Russia’s attack on Ukraine, calling on Russia to protect merchant ships and seafarers. VDR Chairman Gaby Bornheim , said: “We demand that all ships and their crews be allowed to leave the conflict zone safe and sound. Russia must respect the freedom of navigation. Uninvolved merchant ships must not be attacked.
Some countries and shipping companies have taken action. Calls have been made for Bangladesh to pull its sailors out of the war zone. After the third engineer on board the Banglar Samriddhi has been killed in missile attack on Wednesday, the Foreign Office and Navy Department took action. All 28 crew members and the engineer’s body were removed from the vessel, abandoning ship and taken to safety. They would make arrangements to take the seafarers to Moldova or another neighboring country and cross them to Romania for repatriation.