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Shipping Community Calls on UN to Evacuate Seafarers Caught in Ukraine

evacuation from Ukrainian seaports
ICS estimated that over 300 international seafarers remain in Ukraine awaiting evacuation (Ukraine Interior Ministry file photo)

Published Feb 20, 2023 12:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

The international shipping community released a letter sent to the UN calling for the secretary-general to join efforts to bring home the international seafarers still trapped in Ukraine. Calling the situation an “unacceptable risk to life,” the letter was timed to the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the commencement this week of the next round of talks to extend the Ukraine grain export agreement.

“Today, 331 seafarers remain aboard 62 vessels in nine ports that include Odesa and Mariupol,” says the International Chamber of Shipping, which released the letter on behalf of the more than 30 organizations that co-signed the effort. Signatories include Danish Shipping, the Union of Greek Shipowners, seafarer charities, and vessel operators including NYK Line, Mitsui O.S.K., and “K” Lines. “We call on the United Nations and on your diplomatic influence, to address this matter urgently and evacuate all remaining seafarers and ships.”

The grain deal reached last summer released the bulkers stuck in three Ukrainian ports and resumed the exports of foodstuffs. Despite ongoing complaints that Russia is stonewalling the effort by slowing the inspections and complaining about the terms of the agreement, over 850 outbound voyages have been completed. Gain exports from Ukraine are down by nearly a third this season but since the first voyages in August 2022, the UN reports approximately 22 million tons have departed under the program.

Ukraine had called for the expansion of the effort to additional ports which did not happen in the last round of negotiations in November. The shipping industry organizations are now calling for all the other vessels and the remaining seafarers aboard those ships in Ukraine to gain safe passage. They recognize there are challenges to evacuating seafarers and their ships but say it must be a top priority. 

The shipping companies, unions, and charities have worked to facilitate the evacuations when possible. They have also made arrangements to help provide the seafarers with provisions including food, clean water, and medical supplies. 

Many of the companies were able to bring out most of their crew leaving reduced crews if any aboard their ships. According to the ICS’s data, the number of ships in Ukrainian ports stood at 112 crewed by more than 2,000 seafarers when the ports were closed after Russia’s invasion.

UN officials are again pointing to the critical nature of the next round of negotiations to extend the grain deal while Russia is resumed listing its complaints. Multiple world organizations have already spoken out about the tragedy that would occur if the deal could not be extended.