Russian Forces Strike Two Tugboats at Ochakiv, Leaving Two Dead

The port town of Ochakiv at the mouth of the Dnipro River estuary (Ochakiv.info)

Published Oct 31, 2022 6:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

Two civilian tugboats were hit by Russian fire at the port of Ochakiv, Ukraine on Monday, according to Ukrainian Operational Command South. The Russian strikes are the first hits on civilian vessels reported since the signing of the Black Sea Grain Initiative in late July. Russia withdrew its security guarantees and participation in the initiative over the weekend, citing the drone boat attack on Sevastopol on Friday night. 

"The Russian forces continue their attacks on the port infrastructure on the Ochakiv front," said a spokesman for Operational Command South on Monday. "As a result of an attack on two port civilian tugboats that were involved in the transportation of grain barges, a fire broke out, [and] control over the vessels was lost. Two crew members were killed, one more was rescued with injuries, the fate of another is unknown."

It was not immediately clear whether the strikes on the tugboats were intentional or merely the result of indiscriminate artillery fire. Ochakiv is not covered by the terms of the Grain Initiative, and it has been attacked repeatedly over the course of the invasion. Though Russia is in possession of limited numbers of guided missiles and attack drones, it relies on imprecise artillery bombardment for most strikes along the front line, including past attacks on Ochakiv's grain elevator and port area. 

Russian forces repeatedly struck merchant ships in the first months of the war, and Russia's naval forces enforced a months-long blockade on civilian shipping to and from Ukrainian ports, restricting exports of much-needed grain. The blockade ended in early August with the start of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, but Russia suspended cooperation with the program after Friday night's drone strike on Sevastopol.

As justification for withdrawing from the agreement, Russia has accused Ukraine of using protected grain ships to launch the attack. On Monday, UN aid director Martin Griffiths said that this was not possible, as "none were in the corridor on the night of the 29th of October when the reported attacks took place, and no vessel reported an incident over the weekend."

Separately, Ukrainian forces continue to attack Russian riverine units on the Dnipro, striking pontoon crossings which the Russian Army has set up to replace damaged bridges. Two barges used for crossings in the area of the Antonovsky Bridge - a strategic viaduct that Ukraine has hit repeatedly - were destroyed over the course of the past week, according to Operational Command South. The crossings are essential for the resupply of the Russian pocket on the west bank of the Dnipro, where Ukrainian forces are slowly gaining ground.