Sea mines and stranded crews in Black Sea ports is another consequence of the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Both Turkey and Romania navies have reported neutralizing sea mines, or rather anchor mines, since they do not float on the surface but rather just beneath it with an anchor supporting the floating device.
Meantime the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that at least 1,000 sailors are stranded, concentrated mainly in the Sea of Azov area and in the strategic port of Mariupol, a city heavily besieged by the Russians.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) and the IOM consider that more than 100 merchant ships are blocked in Ukraine and neighboring countries’ waters.
The leaders of these two organizations sent a joint letter to the authorities of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to express their concern about the fate of these sailors.
“In addition to the risk of being bombed, many seafarers find themselves in vessels that no longer have enough food, fuel, drinking water and other essential supplies. The situation of these sailors is getting increasingly untenable, which poses a risk to their health and well-being,” wrote the ILO and IOM in the letter.
Last week the Russian FSB secret service and the Moscow Defense Ministry issued a warning about floating Ukrainian sea mines broken loose from their moorings by a storm off the coast of Odessa. Initially, there was speculation of hundreds of roaming mines. Then, the Russian Defense Ministry rectified the information: approximately 10 of the 370 explosives actually broke free. Ukraine quickly dismissed this as phony information.
Ukraine claims that the explosive devices discovered are, in fact, Ukrainian designs. However, they assert that these mines would have come from the Crimean peninsula, Russia has occupied since 2014. According to Kyiv, Russia is deliberately letting mines float across the Black Sea in order to damage Ukraine’s reputation. “Both versions are factually plausible,” says Johannes Peters, a maritime security and strategy expert at the University of Kiel.
He says the published photos show that the bombs are old models, presumably from Soviet production, with Ukrainian markings. The Turkish authorities confirmed the same information. However, it is also clear that the Russian navy also had access to such mines no later than the annexation of Crimea.”
Sea mines are not prohibited weapons, though the two warring parties accuse each other of violating international humanitarian law. Unlike landmines, there is no international treaty banning sea mines. But the Hague Convention, which forms part of international humanitarian law, binds its use to specific rules which prevent mines from being left adrift in international waters.
On the other hand, it is permissible to place fixed sea mines in one country’s own territorial waters during a crisis and armed conflict to protect against attacks. However, “any form of mine employment requires the observance of certain principles like effective surveillance, hazard control, and warning signing,” says the German Defense Ministry.
When Ukraine mined a vast area of coastal waters in the Black Sea’s northeast, it explicitly warned vessels. In theory, under the Hague Accord, Kyiv should have also issued a warning about any explosives that had been broken loose.