Bombardments and blockade: what happens in Ukrainian ports

2022/03/24 at 7:15 PM

Ukraine’s port sector ended the 2021 year with a slight decrease of 3.7 per cent. In spite of this, 13 ports handled an impressive volume of goods, more than 153 million tonnes. This year will be difficult for the Ukrainian harbours in terms of operational activities.

Four weeks ago, Russia brutally invaded Ukraine, whose port sector found itself on the frontline of military actions. Starting from the first days of the war, most of the Ukrainian harbours were blocked or forced to suspend their operations. From time to time, the Russian troops use to shell the port areas and damage the port infrastructure.

Russian warship ‘Orsk’ burns in Port of Berdiansk, source: Ukrainian Naval Forces

Azov Sea ports

The tensest situation is in the ports of Mariupol and Berdiansk on the Azov seashore. All the ship traffic was halted to and from both harbours after the outbreak of war. Mariupol was surrounded by the Russian troops on 1 March. Since that time, the city with a population of over 400,000 people is under siege. On 12 March, the local port authority was cut off from communication with the rest of Ukraine. Day by day, the situation is becoming worse and worse.

At the same time, the Port of Berdiansk has become a place for active operations of the armies from both sides. Berdiansk, together with the port area, was occupied by the Russian troops on 28 February. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine, the invaders captured five bulker ships loaded with grain. Their current location is unknown. Some Ukrainian media report that they are likely to be towed to Russia. Moreover, the occupied Port of Berdiansk is a temporary base for the Russian Navy. To reduce the further activities of the occupants, the Armed Forces of Ukraine shelled several warships in the morning of Thursday, 24 March. As a result, the Orsk warship was sunk and two other vessels were seriously damaged.

Small hope

Besides Mariupol and Berdiansk, two more Ukrainian ports, Skadovsk and Kherson, were occupied by Russians. They were temporarily closed for the entry and exit of vessels. Another harbour, in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, suspended its operations due to a lack of fleet and freight.

Illustrative picture. Port of Pivdennyi, source: Mykola Zasiadko

Eight other ports still continue their operations. Among them are the three largest harbours in Ukraine such as Pivdennyi, Odesa, Chornomorsk. The mentioned three ports together handle two-thirds of maritime freight traffic in the country. “Mykolayiv, Olvia, Pivdennyi, Odesa, Chornomorsk partially process the fleet available at berths and ship by rail and road. Entry/exit of vessels is temporarily impossible,” the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine informed earlier this week.

Three remaining ports (Reni, Izmail, Ust-Dunaisk), which are situated on the Danube River, receive and dispatch freight. Some Ukrainian shippers are planning to use the mentioned harbours for sending their shipments to Europe. “These ports are however unable to handle the whole Ukrainian import and export cargo flows and are reduced due to the conflict, firstly in terms of capacity and secondly due to the caution of foreign carriers,” the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) stated.

Illustrative picture. Port of Izmail, source: Mykola Zasiadko

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