SHIPPING companies, maritime agencies and seafarer welfare providers have issued a joint letter calling on for the immediate release of 331 seafarers and 62 ships still trapped in Ukrainian ports.

The open letter is addressed to United Nations secretary general António Guterres (dated 20 February 2023) urging him to prioritise the release of the vessels and crews.

Its release comes days ahead of the one-year anniversary of the onset of the conflict in Ukraine. Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Following the invasion last year, the International Chamber of Shipping estimated 2000 seafarers were stranded on ships in Ukrainian ports. By May last year 1500 seafarers had been evacuated, according to the ICS.

“As we approach one year since the start of the war in Ukraine, the co-signatories of this letter write to you to highlight the 331 seafarers still trapped on vessels in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov,” the letter says.

“We call on the United Nations, and on your diplomatic influence, to address this matter urgently and evacuate all remaining seafarers and ships.

“Our seafarers are the heart of our industry and cannot be forgotten. For 12 months now they have been caught up in a crisis far beyond their control. Simply doing their jobs cannot come at the expense of their lives.

“We recognise and celebrate the United Nations, and your leadership, for the Black Sea Grain Initiative that the UN successfully brokered with Türkiye between Ukraine and Russia. This has allowed safe passage of critical grain and fertiliser shipments from Ukraine to populations most in need, and curbed food prices from spiralling out of control. We are committed to supporting the continued success of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, however this cannot come at the expense of innocent seafarers’ lives. Action must be taken now.

“Without our seafarers, movement of the vital grain shipments out of Ukrainian ports would not have been possible. While there are challenges to evacuating seafarers and their ships, it must nonetheless be a top priority. Otherwise, we risk the lives of our seafarers, and this is unacceptable.”

Thirty-two organisations signed the letter, including the ICS, Stella Maris, Mission to Seafarers, German Shipowners’ Association, Union of Greek Shipowners, MOL and NYK.