Russian Forces Relocate Five Foreign-Flagged Ships From Berdyansk

Berdyansk in quieter days (Andrew Butko / CC BY SA 3.0)

Published Mar 22, 2022 5:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

Russian forces have removed and relocated five bulkers that were berthed at the captured port of Berdyansk, according to Governor of Zaporizhzhia Oblast Oleksandr Starukh.

“Residents of Berdyansk report that there were five ships in the port. Some of them were fully loaded - we see this in the customs documents, some are partially loaded. A few days ago, these ships disappeared from the port of Berdyansk. According to people, they were driven away by Russian tugs. There were tens of thousands of tons of Ukrainian grain there," Starukh said in a televised address, according to Ukrinform. 

A local resident confirmed to U.S.-funded Radio Svoboda that five foreign-flagged vessels left the port on March 15, all laden with Ukrainian grain. They were accompanied by a Russian tug, he said. 

The seaport has now been put to use supporting the Russian invasion. Russian state media recently released footage of Russian Navy tank landing ships using the port of Berdyansk for military cargo, helping resupply the Russian attack on Mariupol. Russia claims that 10 ships are now involved in ferrying arms and ammunition into the port. 

The apparent seizure of merchant vessels at Berdyansk would not be the first time that Russian forces have diverted commercial ships. In the early days of the war, two Ukrainian merchant vessels - the bulkers Princess Nicole and the Afina - were intercepted and brought to the Russian-controlled port of Sebastopol. 

On February 25, the Russian Navy also captured the Ukrainian rescue vessel Sapphire, which was under way for Snake Island on a search and recovery mission. Sapphire was brought to Sebastopol, and her crew were disembarked and detained by Russian forces. In an interview Tuesday, a relative of one of Sapphire's officers said that Russian guards allowed the crewmembers a single phone call to their families. There have been no further updates since March 9. 

"Every day I watch my son's frightened eyes when a crying grandmother reports that there is no news from his grandfather [an engineering officer aboard Sapphire]," said Denis Dmitrov, a Ukrainian tech entrepreneur who is related to one of the captives. "Why is society silent? Why is there no action to urgently release these civilians from captivity? After all, it is obvious that it was a pirate seizure."

The capture of the Sapphire left Ukraine without one of its most capable rescue/firefighting tugs, just in time for a proliferation of marine casualties. Multiple merchant ships have been hit by Russian missiles and rockets since the outbreak of the war, and while none have been sunk, one seafarer has been killed. 

Top image: Port of Berdyansk (Andrew Butko / CC BY SA 3.0)