21 Indian sailors stranded amidst the blockade of the Black Sea

21 Indian sailors stranded amidst the blockade of the Black Sea

21 Indian sailors stranded amidst the blockade of the Black Sea

MUMBAI: Students are not the only Indian casualties in the Russo-Ukraine war. At least 21 Indian sailors are currently on board a merchant ship, waving the Marshall Islands flag, waiting for a safe passage from the Mykolaiv port in southern Ukraine. The crew has confined themselves to the ship since February 25, after the attack began. The vessel is one of 25 docked at the port after a halt. Russian forces are now advancing on the port city, which is a major transit point in Ukraine on the Black Sea coast.
Many ships in Mykolaiv have their masts lowered to avoid being identified by their nationality. At least four of the 21 stranded Indian crew members are from Maharashtra. One of them, who spoke to TOI, said that they have decided to stay on the ship based on the instructions of the ship owners and local agents who are providing some logistical support and provisions. The Director General of Shipping and Manning Agency in Mumbai, VR Maritime, through which some of the crew members were hired, is in touch with Indian diplomats and the Ministry of External Affairs.
The ship docked at Mykolaiv on 22 February, and after unloading a cargo of corn, was supposed to sail out on 25 February, but the invasion had already blocked the Black Sea. “There is no shortage of food so far, though initially there was a water shortage which was resolved,” the crew member said. “We are rationing water. Along with many other ships are stranded. We can hear the gunfire. Really scary situation. But there is no option. The shipping company, along with the manning agency, is in constant contact with the ship’s captain and providing updates. It is not safe to step out of port. Traveling by road is not advisable. We are hoping for a safe passage when port operations resume.”
A DG Shipping source said that at least 25 foreign ships are stranded at Mykolaiv port. “The Ministry of External Affairs and other agencies are taking necessary action and await the safe passage of the ship,” the source said. VR Maritime said they are “in touch” with the crew and are taking “extreme care of those stranded” on the ship. “At present it is not advisable to carry out rescue operations and we are waiting and watching. Once we even thought of leaving the ship, but it is not safe to leave the ship and go out. Traveling a distance of 500km from the port to Kyiv is not a smart thing in the present scenario. Our government and embassy are waiting for the port to commence operations which will help in the safe passage,” Captain Sanjay Parashar, CEO and Founder, VR Maritime told TOI.
The family of one of the crew members has appealed to the government for help in evacuating them from the warring country. The wife of another sailor aboard the ship accused the Mumbai-based company that operated the ship of inaction. According to him, the ship had started from Montreal in November 2021 and was carrying bulk goods including food grains. It reached Ukraine on 26 February and was scheduled to depart for Italy on 28 February.
Ukraine is a major exporter of corn and wheat. After Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, most commercial waterway traffic in the Black Sea came to a halt, trapping dozens of ships in the area. Reuters reported on Thursday that two cargo ships – both collided off the coast of Odessa – and one crew member were killed.

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( Image Credit – TOI )

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