Russian and Turkish Ships Spar Over Disputed Rigs
Turkish media have reported that two Russian military vessels intervened in an altercation between a Turkish-flagged merchant ship and a convoy of towed Ukrainian jack-up rigs, ending what Russian sources called an illegal attempt to block the tow. Ukrainian authorities described the rig relocation by Russian-backed operators as an “internationally wrongful act.”
Russian media confirmed the incident and provided additional details. The sources allege that the Turkish ship ignored Rules of the Road requirements and refused to give way, crossing the convoy's course and attempting to hold position on its intended route. The captain of the Turkish ship allegedly refused to answer calls, and changed course only when approached by a Russian Border Service gunboat and Black Sea Fleet missile boat.
The rigs, owned by blacklisted offshore firm Chernomorneftegaz, were being towed from Ukrainian to Russian territorial waters. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the removal of the rigs as “internationally wrongful acts . . . aimed at the systematic violation of the sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over Ukraine internal waters, territorial sea, exclusive economic zone and continental shelf in the Black and Azov Seas.”
The tow to Russian waters was apparently completed without further incident, despite protests from Ukrainian authorities and some foul weather during transit. Russian media sources suggest that the two rigs taken, B-312 and B-319, are worth more than $350 million.
Rig owner Chernomorneftegaz was seized by the separatist Russian-backed government of Crimea during civil unrest last year. The Ukrainian government in Kiev has attempted to reaquire its interest in the company, legally a subsidiary of state-owned Naftogaz.
Chernomorneftegaz is on the U.S. Treasury's list of sanctioned companies for economic contributions to the conflict in Ukraine. It owns a total of four jack up rigs.
Tensions between Turkish authorities and the Russian Navy are already high following a recent near-miss between a Russian naval vessel and a Turkish fishing boat in which shots were allegedly fired by Russian forces.