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International Crews Begin Returning from War-Torn Ukrainian Ports 

crewmembers evacuated from Ukraine repatriated
Group of Filipino seafarers arrived in Manila on March 9 (DFA Photo)

Published Mar 9, 2022 2:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Philippines celebrated the return of its first seafarers that had been caught on ships in and near Ukraine when the war broke out. This successful repatriation of 21 seafarers from the bulk carrier S-Breeze highlights the quiet efforts underway by multiple foreign embassies and ship owners and operators to extricate their crews from the closed ports of Ukraine and the dangers as vessels have come under attack.

Ukraine’s Maritime Administration reported after the invasion began and the country closed its commercial ports that there were at least 100 foreign-flagged merchant ships in or near its ports. Bloomberg did a calculation reporting that it could be as many as 120 ships with well over 1,000 crewmembers.

The deputy head of the Maritime Administration told Reuters that they were working to remove crews from the foreign ships. He estimated that Ukraine had assisted in evacuating at least 100 seafarers and arranging for them to travel to neighboring Moldova to begin repatriation flights home.

Among the successful efforts are those of the Philippine Embassy and Consulate in Romania and Moldova that combined to bring their citizens out of Ukraine. While the 21 arriving in Manila on March 8 were the first group to reach the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs reports that a total of 63 Filipinos have been repatriated while 136 have been evacuated from Ukraine. An additional group of seven seafarers from the containership Joseph Shulte, which remains docked in Odesa, were also in route to Manila while other seafarers from four bulkers, Star Helena, Global Aglaia, Key Knight, and Star Pavlina, have also been evacuated from their ships in various Ukraine ports and are currently in Bucharest, Romania.

“The department expects more arrivals in the coming days as it steps up its efforts to bring home our countrymen from Ukraine,” stated OUMWA Undersecretary Sarah Lou Y. Arriola.

Among the Filipinos that have been removed from ships are 23 crewmembers as well as nine Greeks and three Romanians that Greek shipping company Angelicoussis Group reported evacuating. The company thanked Greece’s foreign affairs ministry and the consulate in Odesa for their assistance in bringing the officers and crew off two of its Capesize bulkers, Maran Astronomer and Maran Excellence. Both vessels were stranded at a grain terminal near Odesa since the war began.

A similar scene played out at the airport in Dhaka, Bangladesh today when a Turkish Airlines flight arrived with the 28 surviving crewmembers from the bulker Banglar Samriddhi. The vessel was struck by what was believed to be a Russian missile on February 24 at the port of Olvia. The ship’s third engineer was killed while on duty and hours later the shipping company and government made arrangements to abandon the ship and bring the crew to safety. The body of the deceased engineer however remains in Ukraine while the government is working to return him home for burial.

Neighboring India is also reporting that it has been able to begin repatriations of its citizens. On Tuesday, the Indian mission in Ukraine Tweeted a message reporting that 52 seafarers including Indian, Lebanese, and Syrian sailors have been evacuated from the war-torn port of Mykolaiv. The route was too difficult to complete the evacuation of an additional 23 sailors, but the mission was hoping to remove them today. Captain Sanjay Prashar of an Indian crewing agency told Indian media that 24 other vessels were docked in the same port with Indian citizens on board. India reports that it has brought back over 17,000 citizens since Russia invaded Ukraine. 

While these efforts have been successful in beginning to remove seafarers from Ukraine, none of the authorities has a solid estimate on how many more remain trapped either in port or offshore. The vessels are largely being abandoned as it is too dangerous to sail them away from the ports. The Bangladesh Shipping Corporation, for example, reports it filed a $22.8 million insurance claim for the Banglar Samriddhi, which has been abandoned in Ukraine after the rocket attack.