Some of the estimated 1,000 seafarers trapped in Ukraine have escaped, the International Labor Organization and industry officials told Reuters, while expressing concern for those who remained trapped on the ships or missing.
Several foreign cargo ships have been hit by crossfire in Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24 and UN agencies called for urgent action to protect some 1,000 sailors, including in the beleaguered port city of Mariupol which has been shelled for weeks.
A cargo ship is moored in the Black Sea port of Odessa, Ukraine November 4, 2016. PHOTO: Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko/File photo.
An estimated 100 ships were prevented from leaving due to the risk of drifting sea minessay industry sources.
Fabrizio Barcellona, seafarers’ section coordinator at the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said the “vast majority” of seafarers, from at least 20 countries, including India, Syria, Egypt, Turkey, the Philippines and Bangladesh, as well as Ukraine and Russia, were gone, traveling overland to Poland and Romania.
He cited reports from Philippine government sources that Filipino sailors had left. The Philippine Department of Labor said 371 people had been repatriated, 68 had returned to work outside Ukraine and around 15 remained there.
“A small number [of the estimated 1,000] remain stranded and unable to return home due to the continued threat of potential military crossfire,” Barcellona said.
An ILO spokesman said in an email that some sailors were still stuck on their ships, within earshot of shellfire, without giving details. Others had been disembarked, some of whom were repatriated to their homes, while others were under the protection of the Ukrainian army.
Russia said on Wednesday it had taken control of the Mariupol trading port and freed what it called “hostages” from the ships.
On April 11, a letter was sent to members of the International Maritime Organization by maritime authorities in Dominica about his ship which sank in Mariupol this month, saying the crew were hiding on other ships “under immense intense fear and distress”.
Barcelona said the ITF, which represents some 200 seafarers’ unions, had sought to establish “blue corridors”, or safe passageways, but this was impossible because of the mines.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has urged parties to the conflict to allow civilians, including commercial crews, to leave and said it would raise the issue with authorities.