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Maritime security in Ukraine in the aftermath of Russian aggression

As Ukraine’s access to its southern seas is becoming increasingly difficult, it is looking for ways to restore the operations and potential of its most beleaguered sea ports.

April 24, 2018 - Yuriy Husyev - Analysis

Berdyansk sea port Photo: Foreman 1982 (cc) wikimedia.org

Ukraine is and will remain a maritime state. Ukrainian ties to the sea are not only confined to the Soviet period. It started with sea trade missions of the Kievan Rus as early as the 10th century, with famous Cossack naval military campaigns of Hetman Sagaidachny and other legendary leaders.

The occupation of the Crimean Peninsula has turned Ukrainian attention towards strengthening the marine component of national security and defence, which directly affects the transport infrastructure and economy of Ukraine.

To this date, Ukraine has been witnessing a decrease in the number of vessels and cargo turnover in the maritime ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk, which negatively affects the economy of concerned enterprises. The Russian Federation violates the fundamental principles of international maritime law, conducting active economic, fishery, construction and engineering activities in the exclusive maritime economic zone and territorial waters of Ukraine. These encroachments have acquired a more systemic nature and foster further acts which are unlawful in relation to Ukraine.

On May 24 2017, the Russian Federation limited the parameters for the passage of vessels that go back and forth from the Black Sea to the Sea of ​​Azov under the arch of the transport bridge through the Kerch Strait.
These are some of the restrictions: length – 160 m; width – 31 m; draught – 8.0 m; with the surface dimension at 33 m. It should be noted that the average dimensions of the vessels currently processed in the Ukrainian seaports of the Azov region are: length – 175 m; width – 27 m; draught – 9.6 m.

This led, in example, to a fall in the volumes of Ukrainian steel exports to the USA, estimated at some 1 million tons. It should be noted that the state of grain logistics in the Azov region is likely to worsen considerably due to significant increases in the cost of freight of vessels that manage to fulfill the dimensional requirements for passage through the Kerch Strait. About 50 per cent of sea vessels that were loaded at the terminal of UkrTransAgro LLC (port in Mariupol) last year, did not meet the overall restrictions that had been introduced.

A rise in freight costs affected the logistics of agricultural products being exported via the Black Sea. It led to significant lowering of efficiency in the ports of the Azov Sea, as well as caused a dramatic slowdown in the loading of grain at terminals and ports in Mariupol and Berdyansk. The losses are clearly reflected in the decrease in cargo turnover and, as a result reducing the income of the ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk. The port of Berdyansk lost 448.000 tons of freight traffic; the loss of port duties until the end of 2017 was expected to be at around 206.000 US dollars (5.6 million UAH.) The port of Mariupol was expected to lose 705.000 tons of freight in 2017, and lose out on port duties as high as 3.5 million UAH.

Illegal construction on the Kerch Bridge needs to be halted immediately. This is only possible with pressure from Ukraine’s international partners and the introduction of additional sanctions against Russia as a state, as well as against companies and individuals involved in the illegal construction of Kerch bridge.

There is also an open question of the arrival of vessels under the flags of other countries to the ports of Crimea. These have temporarily ceased their work in accordance with the decisions of the Government of Ukraine. One of the possibilities to obtain information on the arrival of vessels to the closed seaports of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and Sevastopol, after their, is to monitor  the navigation information and point out vessels using the Automatic Identification System (AIS). Vessels equipped with AIS in turned on automatic mode regularly transmit information about their AIS position (vessel name, IMO number, etc.). Also, the difficulty of identifying infringing ships occurs when the crew shuts down the AIS system when approaching the closed seaports of Crimea. In such cases, it is impossible to establish the fact of arrival of these vessels to the ports using the AIS system.

(Since information from AIS base stations located in the currently occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is not processed, data on the movement of vessels in the specific regions are recorded by stations located on the mainland of Ukraine. Thus, information on shipping conditions is only available from existing networks of AIS coastal stations situated in the mainland of Ukraine, which makes it incomplete and strongly dependent on weather conditions.)

The Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine is taking the necessary measures to solve the problems mentioned above:

  1. Enterprises of the Ministry of Infrastructure (“Derzhhydrographia”, “Marine Search and Rescue Service”, “Administration of Sea Ports of Ukraine”) are monitoring the information from the AIS on a regular basis and passing it on to the authorities of Ukraine in order to prepare an appropriate response at a national level.
  2. Currently, in order to react promptly to ships approaching to closed seaports, the possibility of providing online access to the AIS database of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is something that is being considered.
  3. Upon the instructions of the Ministry, seaport captains shall carry out inspections of ships during their arrival at the ports of  mainland of Ukraine, including checking ship logs in order to detect if these vessels have laid anchor at the ports and terminals of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
  4. Active cooperation with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on the issue of safety of navigation in the Black Sea region related to the annexation of Crimea and informing the international community about preventive measures being undertaken by Ukraine in light of illegal actions committed by the Russian Federation.

The International Centre for Security and Defence Strategies will continue to research maritime security sector in Baltic-Black See region.

Yuriy Husyev is an advisor to the Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine. Former Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine (2015-2016). Co-founder of International Center for Security and Defense Strategies.

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