Friday, June 13, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Under Russian Occupation, Crimea’s Ports Now ‘Danger Zone’ for International Shipping

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 13 – Under international maritime law and given insurance rules, ship owners may soon find it more risky to send their vessels into the ports of Russian-occupied Crimea than they would dispatching them into war zones, according to an analysis by a Russian maritime expert.

            That is because, Mikhail Voytenko says in a comment in “Novaya gazeta,” the United Nations and hence the International Maritime Organization have not recognized Russia’s occupation as legitimate and because Ukraine declared in May that it does not at present control the situation (

            These actions have real consequences, he continues. On the one hand, they mean that “the IMO must recommend to the vessels of all countries which are member countries to avoid going into the water of the Crimea and Crimean ports” because of a lack of certainty about who is in control.

            And on the other hand, any shipping company which ignores such an advisory would face a situation in which international insurance agencies would not cover losses that its vessels might incur (unlike in a war zone) and that Kyiv would have the right to seize the vessels involved or the property on its territory of the owners of those vessels.

            In short, Voytenko says, “for the entire world shipping community, Crimea would officially become a danger zone.” Those who avoid the ports altogether will be safer from lawsuits and losses, he says, and some larger companies may create daughter companies to isolate any losses they might suffer for one set of ships by protecting others.

            Moreover, he points out, “Russia of course has levers to put pressure on Ukraine to look through its fingers at violators.”  Although Kyiv cannot unilaterally lift the IMO sanctions, it can choose not to enforce them lest Russia seize Ukrainian ships in the Sea of Azov which Russia controls by virtue of its control of the Kerch Straights.

            But whatever happens, Voytenko argues, “the fate of the Crimean ports is not an enviable one. They have become outcasts. Neither the vessels of normal shipping companies nor investors are going to come.  Only one thing can save them – the establishment between Russia and Ukraine of some relatively normal ties.”

            Moscow must thus decide what is more important to it, the expert on maritime law says, its imperial desires “or a return to good sense” in which some kind of order exists.

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