Ukrainian Captain Refuses to Sail Home to Avoid Getting Drafted

Port of Burgas (BGPorts file image)

Published Oct 31, 2023 11:30 PM by The Maritime Executive

A Ukrainian state-owned ship is stuck at the port of Burgas, Bulgaria because the captain refused to return to Ukrainian waters, according to local media.

The coastal bulker Izmail has been stuck at Burgas since October 22, when she arrived to offload a cargo of salt, according to local outlet Flagman.bg. The ship had planned to head to a Turkish shipyard for repairs, but the crew received an urgent order to divert and head to Ukraine. 

This order was out of the ship's typical operating pattern. AIS data shows that Izmail has been away from Ukraine for the entirety of the war, according to tracking provided by Pole Star. The vessel has been operating between Bulgaria and a variety of ports in Turkey and the Mediterranean since before the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022.

The master refused to follow the unusual order, Bulgarian port officials said, because he believed that the entire crew would be mobilized and sent to fight on the front when they arrived. He also expressed concern that the voyage would be dangerous, given the threat of Russian sea mines. 

The rest of the crew disagreed with him, and they walked down the gangway and went back to Ukraine, officials said. The captain and one other crewmember remained aboard. The Izmail was relocated to a quiet pier, where she awaits a replacement crew (and payment of accruing port charges). 

Izmail is a 4,000 dwt coastal freighter owned by Ukrainian Danube Shipping Company, a state-owned enterprise based in the riverine port of Izmail. The aging vessel has a long record of port state control deficiencies, including issues with SOLAS gear, propulsion systems, electrical equipment and regulatory paperwork.