Russia Claims That Ukraine Tried to Attack a Merchant Ship

A recent model of Ukrainian suicide drone boat (SBU file image)
A recent model of Ukrainian suicide drone boat (SBU file image)

Published Feb 11, 2024 10:27 PM by The Maritime Executive

Russian forces claim to have foiled a Ukrainian drone boat attack on Russian merchant shipping in the Black Sea. If accurate, it would represent a rare instance of Ukraine's security services targeting civilian merchant vessels, though not the first. Ukraine has not acknowledged or claimed responsibility for the alleged strike. 

In a social media message, the Russian ministry of defense claimed that Ukraine had tried to carry out a strike on civilian-operated Russian transport ships "using semi-submersible naval drones" in the southwestern Black Sea. All traffic in and out of the basin has to pass through this region in order to reach the Bosporus. 

The last reported Ukrainian attack on a merchant vessel was a drone boat strike on a Russian product tanker near the Kerch Strait, and it occurred six months ago. The vessel in question, the Sig, was a U.S.-sanctioned vessel known for transporting military jet fuel cargoes. Ukrainian operatives targeted the ship in early August 2023 using a drone boat. The boat detonated on the tanker's starboard side, tearing a large hole at the waterline. The vessel remained afloat, but sustained extensive damage and flooding, and it required repairs. 

The Russian ministry of defense claimed that its forces were present to defend a merchant ship from a similar attack on Friday evening. Using naval gunnery and electronic warfare, the Russian forces defeated multiple drones, and no vessels were damaged. The claim could not be verified. 

Russia is widely believed to use merchant shipping to transport stolen grain out of occupied areas and ship military cargoes back in.   

The Ukrainian Navy has recently signaled plans to change its tactics after a successful run of drone and missile strikes. Last month, Ukrainian Navy chief Vice-Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa said that a technological arms race was under way. “The enemy is adapting, and we must also adapt," he said. 
"Whoever wins in the technological sense will have victory."

The most recent acknowledged strike was the sinking of the missile corvette Ivanovets, which was operating in an enclosed bay in occupied Crimea earlier this month. According to Ukraine's GUR, its drones successfully and repeatedly targeted the warship: Video from the scene suggests half a dozen drones were involved, and multiple boats reached their targets on the corvette's stern and port side. After a large explosion, the warship sank stern first.