Turkish Cargo Ship Hits Mine off Romania
Update: the following day Turkey denied the reports that the cargo ship was hit by a mine. They confirmed an unidentified explosion but contended it did not damage the vessel.
On Thursday morning, a cargo ship hit a mine off the coast of Romania, sustaining minor damage.
"The vessel reportedly experienced an explosion at approximately 0920 UTC (GMT). The vessel dropped anchor for a short period to assess the damage," said security consultancy Ambrey in an update. "At 1210, the vessel resumed sailing."
The incident occured near the entrance to the Sulina Canal, a strategic waterway connecting the Black Sea to the Danube River. The canal is one of several key arteries for Ukraine's grain trade, and the anchorage near its entrance is perennially busy.
Turkish shipping observer Yoruk Isik told Reuters that the vessel was the general cargo ship Kafkametler, and that the blast caused minor damage to a ballast tank. No injuries were reported.
As of Thursday night, Kafkametler was anchored on the northern branch of the Danube River delta, near the Ukrainian port of Vylkove.
Yesterday, UK defense intelligence warned that it had reason to believe that Russia may use sea mines to target civilian shipping on the approaches to Ukrainian ports, then blame the damage on Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly attacked Ukraine's port infrastructure for grain exports, seeking to damage its agricultural economy.
Abkhazia allows Russia to build a new naval base
Abkhazia, a breakaway region of Georgia, has agreed to allow the Russian Navy to build a naval base on the territory under its control.
“We have signed an agreement, and in the near future there will be a permanent base of the Russian Navy in the Ochamchira district,” said Aslan Bzhania, the head of Abkhazia's Russian-supported government, speaking to Russian state media on Wednesday. “This kind of interaction will continue. There are also things I can’t talk about.”
In 2008, after NATO signaled that it would consider Georgia's application to join, Russian forces intervened in support of ethnic separatist groups in the border regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. After several months of Russian preparation, the hostilities were over in two weeks. A ceasefire agreement required Georgia to withdraw troops from the regions; the Russian Army was supposed to withdraw as well, but expanded its presence on the ground with permanent base infrastructure.
Though Abkhazia is democratically governed, Russia supplies most of its state budget, according to Freedom House. Only Russia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Nauru, and Syria recognize Abkhazia as a sovereign nation; all other UN member states consider it to be part of Georgia.
Given the context, the Georgian government reacted angrily to Bzhania's announcement, calling it a "flagrant violation of Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity."
A base in Abkhazia would give the Russian Navy a new safe harbor, further away from Ukrainian forces. Ukraine has no seagoing naval fleet, but its unmanned surface drones, cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles have made the western half of the Black Sea a challenging operating environment for the Russian Navy. In response to repeated attacks, Russia has ceased naval patrols near the Ukrainian coast and withdrawn most of its fleet from Sevastopol to the port of Novorossiysk, on the northeastern shore of the Black Sea.
“The functional defeat of the Black Sea fleet – and I would argue that is what it is because it has been forced to disperse to ports from which it cannot have an effect on Ukraine – is an enormous credit," said UK armed forces minister James Heappey on Thursday.