Posted on: 3 March 2022
According to information received from Gard’s local correspondents in Ukraine and Russia, other service suppliers, as well as open sources, the situation in Ukraine, Azov Sea, and Black Sea is reported to be as follows:
- The Sea of Azov is closed to commercial vessels, likely to be enforced by Russian naval forces at the Kerch Strait.
- Access to the north-western part of the Black Sea, north of 45º 21’ parallel, is prohibited by the Russian Navy.
- All Ukrainian commercial ports have stopped operations. If a vessel is located at a Ukrainian port, plans to depart should be made as soon as safely possible, and in close cooperation with the local authorities.
- There are reports of mines being laid in the North-Western part of the Black Sea near Ukrainian shores. Masters are recommended to obtain the relevant NAVAREA III warnings relating to mined areas and contact the local port authorities and ships agents for additional information.
- Combat in or near Ukrainian ports, with strikes against port infrastructure, may occur, with crews and vessels in Ukrainian ports being prone to collateral damage. There are reports that a few vessels have sustained damage due to shelling.
- Operation of all Russian ports based in the Black Sea is continuing in a routine manner, although their ISPS Security Level may have been raised. If cargo operations at Russian ports in the Black Sea are absolutely necessary, it is recommended that a Declaration of Security is first carried out with the Port Facility Security Officer (PFSO).
- Commercial operations within the EEZs of Turkey, Georgia, Bulgaria and Romania remain unaffected at this time.
- Transit of crew into port cities may be affected by combat operations; roads may be blocked, and airports and airspace are closed, further limiting transit.
We will update this section as and when we receive further updates. However, as the situation may change quickly, we strongly recommend that ship operators and masters trading to ports in the Black Sea region make frequent checks with local sources of information, e.g. vessel’s agent, Gard’s correspondent, etc., to obtain the most up to date and reliable security information available at any given time. The shipping company Wilhelmsen also provides regular and useful updates on the latest port restrictions and updates in the Black Sea region.
Navigation related challenges and precautions
The US Department of Transport in their Advisory 2022-002 has indicated that vessels may be at the risk of GPS interference, AIS spoofing, and/or other communications jamming when navigating in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. There are also reports that electronic warfare may be employed. If so, then it may affect electronic systems on vessels.
Vessels are also likely to encounter disruption due to navigational restrictions in this region. At the time of writing, AIS data indicates that there is a build-up of vessels either at anchor or drifting on either side of Bosporus and Kerch Straits. Vessels are advised to maintain safe distance from other vessels, keep a sharp lookout and have their engines ready for manoeuvring.
The situation remains volatile and changing and we recommend all vessels operating in the relevant areas to carefully assess the situation, exercise caution, and review their relevant contingency plans, including the crisis communication plan, in case of an incident. Owners and managers should ensure that seafarers on vessels heading towards the Black Sea region are aware of the security threats in their specific geographical area of trade.
Vessels may have received security information from their flag administrations regarding the ISPS Code security level. As an example, on 24 February 2022 the Norwegian Maritime Authority (NMA) raised the security level to MARSEC/ISPS 3 for Norwegian flagged vessels operating in the northern part of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. Marshall Island did the same for their vessels trading in the EEZ of Ukraine in their Ship Security Advisory 02-22. If such instructions are not received, it is recommended to pursue this with the vessel’s flag administration. Additional instructions and notices from flag administrations can also be downloaded from the Lloyd’s Register website: Latest information received from Flag States relating to Ukraine. However, we strongly advise operators and masters to maintain contact with their flag administrations in order to receive their most recent instructions available at any given time.
On 28 February 2022, we received reports that armed personnel purporting to be Russian immigration officers had come onboard a vessel berthed at a Russian non-Black Sea port and taken ashore part of the Ukrainian crew for questioning. Russian armed personnel stayed on board and the remaining Ukrainian crews onboard were reportedly also questioned. While all Ukrainian crew members are now reported to be safely back onboard the vessel, and this may be a one-off incident, masters should note that vessels manned by Ukrainian crew may experience additional scrutiny by Russian authorities, and possible interrogation of such crew members, when calling at Russian ports.
When operating in or near the prohibited areas in the Azov and Black Seas, vessels are recommended to keep their AIS on at all times and clearly state intentions on VHF. In the event of any incident or suspicious activity, vessels should notify its flag administration and the NATO Shipping Center (NSC). Any vessels challenged by military vessels should comply fully with their instructions.
It is worth noting that NATO has published a document on the interaction between naval forces and merchant ships: ATP-02.1 Naval Cooperation and Guidance for Shipping (NCAGS), which may be relevant in the current situation. While NATO is not a party to the conflict, the publication contains a lot of valuable information about the many factors to consider when navigating in areas of armed conflict or war. Relevant advice may also be taken from Appendix A of the Global Counter-Piracy Guidance, which outlines non-piracy threats.
Ukraine and Russian waters added to JWC listed areas
As a result of escalated tensions between Ukraine and Russia, Ukrainian and Russian waters in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov have been included in the latest revision to the list of Hull War, Piracy, Terrorism and Related Perils Listed Areas (JWLA-028) by the Joint War Committee (JWC). Owners are advised to get in touch with their war risk insurers when calling any port falling within the above-mentioned region.
The Warlike Operations Area Committee (WOAC) comprising of UK Chamber of Shipping, Nautilus International and the RMT union, has declared all Ukrainian, Russian and International Waters north of 44°North in the Black Sea as ‘warlike operations area’.
Gard thanks their Ukrainian correspondent, Dias Marine Consulting PC, and Russian correspondent, Novorossiysk Insurance Company Nostra Ltd. for their assistance in preparing this alert.