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Shipping Industry Urges UN to Help Free Seafarers Trapped in Ukraine

February 24, 2023

© The Gate / Adobe Stock

© The Gate / Adobe Stock

The maritime industry is urging the United Nations to help free hundreds of seafarers and dozens of ships that remain trapped in Ukrainian waters a year after Russia's invasion.

In a letter to UN Secretary General António Guterres, an international group of shipping companies and organizations urgently called for diplomatic efforts toward the immediate release of the 331 seafarers still trapped on 62 vessels in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.

"Our seafarers are the heart of our industry and cannot be forgotten. For 12 months now they have been caught up in a crisis far beyond their control. Simply doing their jobs cannot come at the expense of their lives," said the letter, which was signed by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and more than 30 other maritime groups.

The organizations commended the UN- and Turkey-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative reached in July, which has cleared safe passage for bulk carriers transporting grain and fertilizer shipments from Ukraine, but called for more action as other vessels and their crews remain stuck in the war-torn nation.

"We are committed to supporting the continued success of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, however this cannot come at the expense of innocent seafarers’ lives. Action must be taken now," the letter said.

"While there are challenges to evacuating seafarers and their ships, it must nonetheless be a top priority. Otherwise, we risk the lives of our seafarers, and this is unacceptable."

At the start of the conflict in February 2022, approximately 2,000 seafarers were stranded on 94 vessels in Ukrainian ports, and by September, there were 82 ships with 418 seafarers, according to the UN's International Maritime Organization (IMO).

"Many ships employed local ship keepers to replace crew, and some ships went into cold lay-up, with no crew remaining on board. In some situations, crew chose to remain on board," the IMO said.

The agency said it is working on "humanitarian efforts" to evacuate stranded ships and seafarers in the conflict area. "The IMO Secretary General [Kitak Lim] is actively pursuing all avenues to develop, negotiate and facilitate the safe departure of these vessels," it said. "This situation remains a significant challenge, and the IMO Secretariat remains focused on making every effort to facilitate and support the departure of these vessels."

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