UK intelligence claims Russia is actively targeting international merchant ships

Insurers baulking at covering ships heading near Ukraine will have been given further pause for thought yesterday with UK intelligence claiming the Russian military targeted a cargo ship berthed at Odesa port. Multiple missiles fired at the unnamed Liberian-flagged vessel were successfully shot down by Ukraine’s forces on August 24. No name of the vessel target has been revealed, but Splash sources suggest it was the Primus, a bulk carrier that managed to escape Odesa the following day having been holed up there since war broke out in February 2022.
This attack followed US government warnings that the Russian military may launch attacks against civilian shipping in the Black Sea, an area where war has significantly expanded in the near two months since Russia decided to quit a United Nations-brokered grain shipping pact.

UK foreign secretary James Cleverly said: “In targeting cargo ships and Ukrainian infrastructure, Russia is hurting the rest of the world.”

Since July, Russia has systematically targeted Ukrainian port and grain export infrastructure, destroying some 280,000 tonnes of grain in the process according to UK estimates.

To deter against Russian attacks on civilian ships, the British government said last week that Royal Air Force aircraft are conducting surveillance flights above the Black Sea so they can monitor any potential preparations by Moscow to launch an assault on shipping or infrastructure.

The Danube has become Ukraine’s main route for exporting grain since July, but facilities have been pounded hard by Russian drones. The Russian attacks and the de facto blockading of Ukraine’s seaports have crimped exports.

Clarksons Research notes that Ukraine shipped just 1.1m tonnes of grain by sea last month, compared to 3.5m tonnes in May when the UN shipping pact was still in full swing.

To the south, the Romanian port of Constanta has become a vital hub for Ukrainian grain exports, however it is already operating above its design capacity. To this end, the Romanian government last Friday committed $300m to expand the port in an expansion project expected to take three years to complete.

“This is clear and concrete proof that Romania is undertaking serious efforts to support Ukraine, by supporting its grain transit, but also to interconnect the region’s infrastructure for economic security,” Romania’s prime minister Marcel Ciolacu said last Friday.

In the first half of 2023, Constanta Port facilitated the transit of 7.5 million tons of Ukrainian grain, compared to 8.7 million tons for all of last year.

The other significant news coming from the conflict in the Black Sea this week has been the recapturing by Ukrainian forces of two jack-up rigs near the coast of Crimea which had been seized by the Russians eight years ago.

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