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ICS Calls for Safety Corridor to Evacuate Ships and Crews From Ukraine

banglar samriddhi
The bulker Banglar Samriddhi on fire after a Russian missile strike (Twitter)

Published Mar 10, 2022 7:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

The International Chamber of Shipping is calling for the creation of a safe corridor to allow merchant ships and seafarers to evacuate Ukraine, citing the ongoing risk to mariners who have been trapped by the Russian invasion. Industry reports suggest that some crews have already abandoned their ships in Ukraine due to security concerns, ICS said. 

"ICS fully supports the establishment of a maritime corridor to allow the safe evacuation of ships that are currently unable to leave territorial waters in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. They must be allowed to depart the area of conflict and avoid further humanitarian incident," said Guy Platten, ICS secretary general, in a statement Thursday. "Multiple ships have been hit by munitions, seafarers have been killed and injured and seafarers of all nationalities are trapped on ships berthed in ports. It is of the utmost urgency that their evacuation from these areas of threat should be ensured by those states with the power to do so."

The Russian Navy is in firm control of all waters near Ukraine and Crimea, and its forces have been blamed for the recent attacks on merchant shipping in the region. 

ICS also highlighted the risks to maritime commerce arising from the sudden shutdown of travel to and from Ukraine and Russia. The two nations account for at least 15 percent of the international seafaring workforce, and they are particularly well-represented among the ranks of licensed officers. Ukrainian men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, and all commercial flights to and from Ukraine have halted. Russia is almost entirely disconnected from international air travel as well. 

The conflict could exacerbate existing issues with crewing. ICS has already warned of a shortage of merchant sailors if action is not taken to boost numbers, and there have been widespread reports of mariners leaving the industry due to the challenges of the pandemic-era seafaring life. Shore leave has become scarce in many regions, reducing the travel-and-adventure allure of the profession, and various national restrictions have periodically shut down crew change altogether - leaving hundreds of thousands of mariners stranded past their contracts at the height of the pandemic. 

Ukraine's ports have also shut down due to the national emergency, and the nation has banned exports of most major food commodities in order to ensure the supply to its own population. This threatens food supplies for nations all over the world: between them, Russia and Ukraine supply about one quarter of the world's wheat exports, ICS noted. The price of wheat has jumped 30 percent since the start of the invasion, adding to already-high food prices for consumers all over the world.