Italian Owner Protests Russia's Seizure of Freighter at Mariupol

Heavy fighting at Mariupol's port complex, April 9. The Tsarevna is just visible at berth at far right (Russian-aligned DPR forces)

Published Jun 1, 2022 3:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

Italian shipowner Fratelli Cosulich has enlisted the help of Italy's government in an attempt to stop Russian officials from seizing one of its ships, the Maltese-flagged, Italian-owned bulker Tzarevna.

The Tzarevna is located at the port of Mariupol, which was captured by Russian forces last month. She is one of several foreign-flagged merchant vessels at Mariupol that are vulnerable to potential seizure by Russian forces, which may use the ships to abscond with cargoes of steel. Russian state-controlled media has confirmed that extraction of Ukrainian metal cargo for shipment to Russian ports is currently under way. 

"They have already taken away two ships, and the new [Russian-controlled separatist] government of the Donetsk Republic could take ours away too," managing director Augusto Cosulich told the Medi Telegraph. "Our local agent told us that someone presented himself in the name of the Donetsk Republic and would make an offer to buy our ship, but at a ridiculous value. They made a blackmail, an offer that we have not even taken into consideration."

The Tsarevna is laden with 15,000 tons of steel slabs for export to Italy. The cargo was produced by Metinvest's massive Azovstal plant, which was destroyed (along with most of Mariupol) during the Russian siege of the city. The fate of the vessel and her cargo are unclear, but Cosulich told Il Giornale that "the news is that the Russians are taking everything, ship and cargo."

Pro-Russian separatist leader Denis Pushilin appeared to confirm this impression in comments Tuesday. "Part of the [local] courts will pass into the jurisdiction of the [Russian-controlled] DPR. Appropriate decisions have already been made on this. These ships will be renamed. The flags that will be on them are also already clear,” said Pushilin. 

The governor of the Liguria region, Giovanni Toti, has expressed his support for Cosulich and has reached out to Italian foreign minister Luigi Di Maio for support. 

" What is happening with the Tzarevna ship owned by a company of the Fratelli Cosulich Group, based in Genoa, is inadmissible and serious," said Toti. "[Di Maio] has already assured us of the full commitment of the [foreign ministry] to avoid this significant damage to our country and to one of the main Italian shipping groups." 

Like half a dozen other merchant ships stuck at Ukrainian ports, Tsarevna was struck by an explosive projectile in the early days of the conflict. A video taken in April, while the port was still under Ukrainian control, appeared to show light shrapnel damage to her deckhouse and isolated damage to her hull (below).