By Jonathan Saul and Ruma Paul
LONDON/DHAKA (Reuters) – An Estonian-owned cargo ship sank on Thursday off Ukraine’s major Black Sea port of Odessa, hours after a Bangladeshi vessel was hit by a missile or bomb at a port east of Odessa, underlining the growing peril to merchant shipping after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Many shipping firms have suspended journeys to Black Sea ports and other terminals in Ukraine amid soaring recent insurance premiums for such voyages. At least three commercial ships have been hit separately by projectiles since Feb. 24 when Russia’s invasion began.
Viktor Vyshnov, deputy head of Ukraine’s Maritime Administration, said six crew members from the Marshall Islands-flagged Helt were picked up by Ukraine’s rescue service and taken to a hospital in nearby Chernomorsk after floating in cold water for many hours, but he had no further details.
The rescue was confirmed by Igor Ilves, managing director of the Helt’s Tallinn-based manager Vista Shipping Agency.
Ilves had told Reuters earlier that two of the crew were in a life raft at sea, with four others unaccounted for at the time. He said the crew comprised four Ukrainian nationals, a Russian and a Belarusian.
“The vessel has finally sunk,” Ilves said, adding it might have struck a mine.
There were no claims of responsibility for either event.
NATO’s Shipping Center warned on Wednesday that there was “a high risk of collateral damage on civilian shipping in the northwestern part of the Black Sea”, which included mines.
“There are several open source reports of civilian ships being hit directly or indirectly as a result of the acts of war in the northwestern Black Sea within Ukrainian territorial waters and adjacent international waters,” NATO said.
“Civilian shipping is encouraged to exercise caution and be on high alert in the area.”
Late on Wednesday, a missile or bomb struck a Bangladeshi-owned cargo ship in the Black Sea port of Olvia, killing one of its crew members. Efforts were underway to rescue the others from the vessel, its owner said on Thursday.
“The ship came under attack and one engineer was killed,” Pijush Dutta, executive director of Bangladesh Shipping Corp, told Reuters. “It was not clear whether it was a bomb or missile or which side launched the attack. The other 28 crew are unharmed,” he said, without providing further details.
The Bangladesh-flagged Banglar Samriddhi had been stuck in Olvia since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, and was hit by a missile, a Bangladeshi foreign ministry official said.
Olvia is located in the Dnipro-Bug river estuary on the Black Sea coast, 15 km (nine miles) south of Mykolaiv and about 110 km (70 miles) east of Odessa.
Dutta of the Bangladesh Shipping Corp said separately the crew were evacuated by tugboat to a shelter in Olvia.
In the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, the Russian Embassy said in an English-language statement on its Facebook page that the circumstances of the incident were “being established”.
“We express deep condolences to the near and dear ones of the deceased. The Russian side bends every effort to ensure safe departure of the Bangladeshi ship from the port,” it said.
Videos on social media showed crew members asking for help after the ship was hit. In one, the vessel’s second engineer said the ship had been hit by a rocket, killing a crewmate.
“We have no power supply. Emergency generator power supply is running. We are on the verge of death. We have not been rescued yet. Please save us,” he said.
In another video, another crew member, Asiful Islam Asif, said: “Please rescue us.”
Dutta said he was aware of the videos but declined further comment.
Moscow has called its actions in Ukraine a “special military operation” designed not to occupy territory but to destroy Ukraine’s military capabilities and capture what it regards as dangerous nationalists – a pretext rejected by Ukraine and the West as baseless propaganda.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul in Dhaka and Jonathan Saul in London; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Bernadette Baum)