UN International Tribunal orders Russia to release Ukrainian sailors

At its meeting on May 25 in Hamburg, Germany, the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ordered Russia to immediately release two Ukrainian warships and an auxiliary vessel as well as 24 Ukrainian sailors detained in the Kerch Strait in November 2018.

The Tribunal also demanded that the detainees be allowed to return to their homeland. Thus, the demands of Ukraine were satisfied. Russia refused to participate in the meetings of the tribunal.

The court also ordered the Russian Federation to refrain from any actions that could aggravate the conflict with Ukraine, arising from the detention of ships and seamen.

On November 25, three ships of the Ukrainian Navy (armored boats “Nikopol” and “Berdyansk”, as well as the tugboat “Yany Kapu”) planned to move from Odessa to Mariupol. Although the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait are inland waters of Ukraine and Russia, where merchant and military ships enjoy freedom of navigation, the Russian side did not let Ukrainian ships through.

The Russians blamed the Ukrainians for violating the state border and “dangerous maneuvering.” The Don border guard boat deliberately rammed the Yany Kapu, and the entrance to the Kerch Strait was physically blocked by cargo ships. Russia sent military reinforcements to the scene of the incident, including combat helicopters. Since the Ukrainian ships were not let into the Sea of Azov, they finally turned back to Odessa.

But the Russians pursued the Ukrainians in neutral waters, demanded a halt, and eventually opened fire on the line. “Nikopol”, “Berdyansk” and “Yany Kapu” were captured and sent to Kerch. From 3 to 6 Ukrainian sailors were injured, 24 people were captured.

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