Russia Closes Border to Ukrainians, Affecting Port Calls and Crew Change

Novorossiysk, above, is among the ports that will reportedly refuse crew change and shore leave for Ukrainian seafarers (file image)

Published Oct 16, 2023 8:26 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Monday, the government of Russia shut down border crossing access for Ukrainian citizens, tightening security after a series of covert attacks on Russian soil. The closure is expected, but it may have effects on shipping because of the large number of Ukrainian seafarers employed in international trade, according to the American Club. 

The P&I club reports that Ukrainian seafarers will not be able to enter Russia through Russian seaports, putting an end to crew changes for these individuals until after the ship leaves Russia. 

Even if a foreign vessel has no plans to carry out a crew change in Russia, but merely has Ukrainian crew aboard when it calls at a Russian port, there could be "significant difficulties" for the operator under the new rules, the club warned. 

The Russian government's formal notice restricts Ukrainian citizens to entering at two points only: the Moscow airport, or a road crossing at the Latvian border. Though this appears comprehensive, it is unclear whether it will be evenly applied across all Russian seaports. The insurer has only received advice related to the restriction for Russian ports in the Black Sea region - like Novorossiysk, Taman, Tuapse and Kavkaz. These ports will be prohibiting shore leave and crew changes for Ukrainian crewmembers. 

"Members with Ukrainian citizens aboard their vessels that have plans to call at any Russian Federation ports are recommended to check and confirm the security policy at that port of call," American Club advised.

The Ukrainian military and intelligence services have had considerable success in targeting Russian Navy assets in the Black Sea, and port access is tightly controlled. At Sevastopol and Novorossiysk, the harbors are protected not just by boat patrols and surveillance, but by multiple layers of movable net barriers enclosing the harbor entrance.