Ukraine Seizes Russian Tanker at Port of Izmail

Russian forces block the Kerch Strait Bridge's main channel using the Nika Spirit, ex name Neyma, Nov. 25, 2018 (via social media)

By The Maritime Executive 07-25-2019 01:54:11

On Thursday, the Ukrainian government seized a small Russian product tanker at the Danube River port of Izmail in retaliation for the detention of three Ukrainian Navy vessels by Russian forces. Ukraine has already released all 10 members of the Nika Spirit's crew without charges. 

Ukraine's SBU security service asserts that the Nika Spirit was involved in the altercation between Russian border units and the three Ukrainian naval vessels at Kerch Strait last November. The Nika Spirit's AIS broadcast identifies her IMO number as 8895528 - the same number belonging to the Russian tanker Neyma, which was used by Russian forces to block the navigable channel under the Kerch Strait Bridge during the encounter. The Equasis record corresponding to this IMO number still shows the vessel's previous name. 

On November 25, 2018, Russian forces opened fire on three Ukrainian Navy vessels near the Kerch Strait, causing damage and injuring six crewmembers. Russia's Federal Security Service captured the three vessels, the Ukrainian patrol boats Berdiansk and Nikopol and the tugboat Yany Kapu, and brought them to Russian-occupied Crimea. 

Russian authorities are holding all 24 members of the vessels' crews. While the sailors are foreign military servicemembers, they are not being treated as prisoners of war; instead, they face civilian criminal charges of "violating the Russian border." The Lefortovo District Court in Moscow has extended their pre-trial detention until August 25. 

Ukrainian politicians and Western leaders have called for Russia to return the captured vessels, release the sailors and respect international law regarding freedom of navigation. In addition, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled earlier this year that the sailors should be freed; the Kremlin rejected this decision.