Russian Forces Seize Port of Berdyansk

Port of Berdyansk (Andrew Butko / CC BY SA 3.0)

Published Feb 27, 2022 8:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Ukrainian government has confirmed that the port of Berdyansk has fallen to Russian forces. The nearby port of Mariupol remains under seige. 

The mayor of Berdyansk, Oleksandr Svidlo, said that the occupiers had asked him and his administration to continue in their posts, but they refused. 

"Some time ago, armed soldiers entered the executive committee building and introduced themselves as soldiers of the Russian army," Svidlo said in a Facebook post. "They informed us that all administrative buildings were under their control and that they were taking control of the executive committee building. Under the control of armed men, I consider this proposal unacceptable, so we, as all members of the operational headquarters, left the building."

Berdyansk is a small port city of about 100,000 people, and it is a hub for exports of coal, grain, sunflower-seed oil, iron and other commodities. As a port on the Sea of Azov, it is restricted by the navigable dimensions of the Kerch Strait, which limits draft to eight meters, air draft to 33 meters and length to 215 meters. 

Two merchant ships captured

Two Ukrainian merchant ships appear to have been seized by Russian forces over the weekend, according to the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service. 

AIS data shows that the bulkers Princess Nicole and Afina - both Ukrainian-flagged - have diverted to the Russian-controlled port of Sebastopol. 

Their AIS tracks became erratic, then ceased transmission at about 0200 hours GMT on Saturday, according to tracking provided by Pole Star. When transmissions resumed at 1200 hours on Sunday, they were stationary in Russian-controlled waters off the coast of Sebastopol. As of Sunday evening, Princess Nicole was broadcasting "not under command."

The Ukrainian State Border Guard Service confirmed the seizure of the two vessels on Sunday. 

"Yesterday, after declaring a 'counter-terrorist operation' in the northwestern part of the Black Sea, Russian Navy ships captured two more Ukrainian civilian ships," the service told Ukrinform in a statement. "Russian military ships once again dared to violate the rules of international maritime law, under the cover of a self-proclaimed counter-terrorist operation carried out a pirate capture of two ships under the Ukrainian flag with almost 50 by the peaceful crew members."

On Friday, according to the service, the same task force of Russian Navy warships captured the Ukrainian rescue vessel Sapphire. The rescue tug was under way for Snake Island on a search and recovery mission. Her crew had been tasked to search the island for the remains of its former garrison and determine if there were any survivors; while en route, they diverted to assist a merchant vessel that had come under attack by Russian forces. They lost contact shortly after, and the border service later confirmed that the Sapphire had been seized. 

Top image: Port of Berdyansk (Andrew Butko / CC BY SA 3.0)