Turkish-Led Sea Mine Removal Effort Starts Operations in Black Sea

Sea mine in Black Sea
A drifting mine in the Black Sea (courtesy Bulgarian Ministry of Defense)

Published Jul 1, 2024 7:05 PM by The Maritime Executive


A Turkish-led coalition of NATO members has launched an initiative to remove drifting naval mines from the Black Sea, clearing the way for safe navigation to and from Ukrainian seaports. 

Drifting mines have been a recurring feature throughout the war in Ukraine. Dozens of Soviet-era contact mines (usually the YaM bottom-tethered design) have been spotted along the coasts of Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey over the past two years. In Georgia, a mine washed up on a public beach in February 2023, frightening swimmers.

The mines are also a hazard to navigation. In December, a Greek bulker hit a drifting mine off Ukraine, injuring the master and one crewmember. Multiple vessels were damaged in November and October, about the same time that Russian forces allegedly dropped more mines into the sea lanes to interfere with Ukrainian grain shipping. Despite concerted Russian efforts to disrupt its navigation and port operations, Ukraine exported 37 million tonnes of agricultural goods over the past 10 months, according to its reconstruction ministry. 

The UK has donated two minehunting vessels to the Ukrainian Navy to help address the problem of sea mines, but Turkey will not allow the minesweepers to pass through the Bosporus because it has closed the waterway to all warships. 

A multinational Turkish-Romanian-Bulgarian minehunting mission was first announced in January. The three nations have all been working independently to combat the threat, but the operation will now be housed under a unified command. Joint clearance operations will begin Tuesday, according to the Kyiv Post. Though its members are all part of NATO, the operation will be explicitly neutral in the conflict, and it aims to reduce risk to merchant shipping for all stakeholders.  

"The purpose of creating the group is to detect mines that are carried by the current from both Russian and Ukrainian ports, and to eliminate them," Turkey’s Defense Minister Yasar Güler said.