Ukraine eyes sea blockade of Crimea

Aerial view on port of Sevastopol, ships are moored in the docks. Credit: Shutterstock
Aerial view on port of Sevastopol, ships are moored in the docks. Credit: Shutterstock

The Ukrainian hydrographic service Derzhhydrographia is working on establishing a specially restricted sea area around Crimea, aimed at nearly completely ceasing ship calls in the ports of the peninsula, according to Bohdan Ustymenko, deputy head of Derzhhydrographia. To do that, Ukraine is working to produce and update a complete national portfolio of the sea navigational charts of these territories.

Earlier this year, Derzhhydrographia appealed to the embassies of Great Britain and Norway, as well as the International Hydrographic Organization, for assistance in removing Russian navigational charts of Ukrainian waters from international circulation.

This is not only a matter of politics, but also the overlap of different charts can lead to technical errors in the navigation equipment of ships and lead to the death of sailors, said Oleksandr Schyptsov, director of Derzhhydrographia.

The current situation jeopardises safe navigation, and some incidents have already been registered in the region associated with the overlap of Russian and Ukraine electronic navigation charts, Schyptsov said, not providing any additional details.

By introducing a sea blockade around Crimea, Ukraine also aims to exonerate itself from responsibility for any potential incidents, according to Schyptsov.

The statements made by Derzhhydrographia have been heavily criticised by Russian officials. Sergei Tsekov, member of the Council of Federation, upper chamber of the Russian Parliament, said in a statement posted by a Russian state-owned news outlet that the project was one of the examples when Ukraine government agencies “were putting together some fairy tales in order to waste some money from the national budget”.

Ephim Phiks, deputy chair of the Crimean Parliament commented that Ukraine had neither funds nor resources to actually introduce a sea blockade of Crimea. He added that the statements made by the Ukrainian officials were nothing but “an empty talk and an attempt to attract some attention”.

Olga Kovitidi, another member of the Council of Federation, said that the actions of the Ukraine government agencies were against “global maritime norms”. Vasily Gutsulyak, professor of the Russian Transport University, added, “In my understanding, the main target of that project is to fully block all ships calls at Crimean ports, but as far as I am concerned, the number of these calls is already close to zero. These days only a madman would order its ship to visit one of the Crimean sea ports. The only exception is maybe some low-tonnage Turkish ships.”

In August 2019, the Ukrainian Infrastructure Ministry reported that since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, there were 868 registered ships at Crimean sea ports. There is no information on how many Russian ships have visited the peninsula during this period. All calls to the Crimean sea ports are breaking the Ukrainian legislation, the ministry stressed.