More stranded ships set to leave Ukraine

As the Joseph Schulte nears its safe harbour destination in Turkey, other ships in Ukraine are readying their voyage plans to exit the war-torn country having been stranded for more than 530 days. Meanwhile, in the opposite direction a number of vessels are bound for Ukrainian ports suggesting Russia has either eased or lost its grip on the western edges of the Black Sea, battered by a recent series of naval drone attacks.

The Joseph Schulte, a 10-year-old, 9,400 teu boxship, yesterday became the first ship to trial Ukraine’s recently announced ‘humanitarian corridor’ to allow the many international ships stranded since war began in February 2022.

The Hong Kong-flagged ship, owned by a Chinese bank and the Schulte Group and managed by Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM), left Odesa early yesterday morning, heading to Istanbul via the territorial waters of Ukraine, Romania, and Turkey.

There remain around 60 international ships marooned in war-torn Ukrainian waters, however vessel tracking data checked by Splash today show a number of ships, predominantly bulk carriers, have signalled ports in Turkey in the coming weeks, suggesting a mass exodus in the wake of the keenly watched departure of the Joseph Schulte.

Ukraine announced a temporary corridor in the Black Sea a week ago to release merchant ships stuck in its ports since the outbreak of war a year and a half ago. The move, coordinated with the International Maritime Organization, is seen as a challenge to Russia’s naval blockade it has enacted in recent weeks since quitting a United Nations-brokered grain shipping pact.

Insurers were left reeling last year when Russia invaded Ukraine with a vast number of assets – including ships – left stranded and under fire. A huge operation to get stranded seafarers out of the country took place over the opening months of the war, a time when a number of merchant ships were hit in the crossfire.

Immediately after Russia withdrew from the grain deal last month, it stated that all vessels calling Ukraine will be suspected of carrying weapon supplies to Ukraine.

Russia’s navy then conducted multiple strikes on Ukrainian grain facilities and ports including at the Danube River port of Izmail which was an alternative route for exporting grain via Romania.

Despite Russian forces firing warning shots and boarding a small bulk carrier in international waters bound for Ukraine earlier this week, vessel tracking data shows at least three vessels – all of Turkish origin – are en route directly to Ukrainian Danube ports today rather than going on inland channels from the Romanian port of Constanta.

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