Civilian ship moored at Mariupol sunk by Russian shelling - Ukraine

"During another barbaric shelling of Mariupol, Russia sank a merchant ship under the Dominican Republic flag," said the Ukrainian Defense Ministry.

 Russian Navy vessels are anchored in a bay of the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea May 8, 2014 (photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER/FILE PHOTO)
Russian Navy vessels are anchored in a bay of the Black Sea port of Sevastopol in Crimea May 8, 2014
(photo credit: REUTERS/STRINGER/FILE PHOTO)

Russian shelling allegedly sank the  Dominican Republic-flagged civilian cargo vessel Azburg when it shelled the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry claimed on Tuesday.

"Pirates of the Sea of ​​Azov," tweeted the Defense Ministry. "During another barbaric shelling of Mariupol, Russia sank a merchant ship under the Dominican Republic flag. In terms of the number of peaceful ships sunk during last 40 days, [the] Russian fleet has already surpassed many Somali pirate captains."

The ministry posted pictures that allegedly showed the Azburg ablaze.  The container cargo ship was last recorded by the maritime traffic database MarineTraffic as being moored at Mariupol. 

The city of Mariupol has been encircled by Russian forces since the early days of the Russia-Ukraine War. Russian forces have been bombarding Ukrainian military positions, and allegedly civilian targets, within the city with surface-to-surface ballistic missiles, artillery, mortars, naval guns, and airstrikes. Many areas of the city have been left without basic utilities, and there have been multiple efforts to evacuate civilians through humanitarian corridors.

 A warship of the Russian Black Sea fleet leaves a port during naval drills in Sevastopol, Crimea, in this still image taken from video released February 12, 2022.  (credit: Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS) A warship of the Russian Black Sea fleet leaves a port during naval drills in Sevastopol, Crimea, in this still image taken from video released February 12, 2022. (credit: Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS)

Several civilian vessels were seized, damaged or sunk under disputed circumstances. On March 3, the Estonian-owned cargo ship Helt sank near Ukraine's major Black Sea port of Odesa. The Helt was allegedly used by the Russian Black Sea Fleet as a human shield to protect its navigation, in what Ukraine called an act of "21st century piracy." 

On the same day that the Helt sank, a Bangladeshi vessel was hit by a missile or bomb at another port.

On February 28, the Princess Nicole, a Ukrainian bulk carrier. with a sailor with Israeli citizenship, was detained by Russian naval forces.

A Moldovan vessel sailing under a Romanian flag was damaged by a Russian warship, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine alleged on February 25. The vessel, the Millenial Spirit, was reportedly traveling to Odessa when it was damaged. 

On February 24, Two civilian ships were hit by Ukrainian missiles in the Sea of Azov, according to Russian media.

Commercial shipping has become perilous in the Black Sea since the Russia-Ukraine War began. The Black Sea is a major shipping route for grain and oil. Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Turkey, Ukraine and Russia all have coastlines on the sea. Many shipping firms have suspended sailings to affected Black Sea ports and other terminals in Ukraine, with insurance premiums for voyages soaring.

The Russian Embassy in Cairo claimed on Tuesday that the Ukrainian military was preventing 67 foreign ships from departing  in the Black Sea, TASS reported. The comments were reportedly in response to "Kyiv's unfounded statements about Russia's obstruction of the freedom of merchant shipping in the Black Sea."

Humanitarian corridors have reportedly been organized to allow merchant navigation of the sea.

NATO's Shipping Center warned on March 2 that there was "a high risk of collateral damage on civilian shipping in the northwestern part of the Black Sea," which included mines. Sea mines have been discovered in the coastal territory of Turkey and defused by Romanian and Turkish naval units, including near the key maritime chokepoint the Bosphorus strait. Russia and Ukraine have accused one another of laying the mines. 

“In total, with gross violations of the rules and without mapping, about 420 mines of obsolete types, produced in the first half of the 20th century, were laid down,” the Russian embassy to Egypt asserted on Tuesday, according to TASS. “During storms, some of them also broke away from anchors and now drift freely in the western part of the Black Sea."

Reuters contributed to this report.