Occupied Crimea: How painful are maritime sanctions on Russia-occupied Crimea?

17:58 Oct. 6, 2016

How painful are maritime sanctions on Russia-occupied Crimea?

A view of Balaklava Bay on August 13, 2015 in Balaklava, Crimea. (GettyImages Photo)

Monitoring group of Maidan of Foreign Affairs and BlackSeaNews in cooperation with Ukraine Today presented analysis of the effect of sanctions on Russian occupational administration in Crimea

Ukraine's blockade of Russian-occupied Crimea and international sanctions, imposed by the West, have put the peninsula in quite an uncomfortable position.

Local seaports, that used to harbor hundreds of international ships a year, have seen an extreme decrease in foreign vessels. Those that dare to anchor off at Crimean bays, get blacklisted by both Ukraine and the West.

Read also: Maritime sanctions for Crimea made huge gap in Russian trading fleet – analyst

A report, provided by the monitoring group of 'Maidan of Foreign Affairs' Fund and editorial office of BlackSeaNews.net, analyzes the ships that have entered the peninsula's sea gates and become subjects to international sanctions over the course of the last two years.

The analysts have monitored all Crimean sea ports with the exception of Chernomorsk, because foreign vessels do not enter this port.

Who violates the sanctions?

So, starting from from March 18 2014 till August 15 2016, 260 commercial vessels flying the flags of 32 states got into the "black list" for visiting seaports of occupied Crimea. The absolute majority of them were registered under Russian flag. 

The number and the net weight of vessels violating the Legal Regime on the Occupied Territory of Crimea by state flags from March 18 2014 till August 15 2016

However, this kind of analysis does not describe the total picture in dynamics. So, let us consider the situation in development.

Since March 18, 2014 till the end of the year, 146 vessels arrived at Crimean seaports, 66 of them (45,2%) were flying Russian flag. In 2015 172 vessels entered Crimean seaports, and net weight of violating vessels under Russian flag has grown considerably – 108 (62,8%). As of August 15 2016, in less than 8 months, 126 vessels arrived at Crimean seaports, and the share of violators under Russian flag exceeded 70% - 89 vessels, 70,6%.

Read also: Crimean seaports ditched by international cruise liners – analyst

It clearly illustrates the ongoing process of gradual replacement of foreign commercial vessels by Russian ones, arriving to Crimea. It is the direct consequence of Ukrainian bans, international sanctions and "black lists" published in Ukrainian press and republished in specialized naval media abroad.

Listed total number of violating vessels from the "black list" does not mean that all of these 260 ships continue to ply Crimea during all these 2,5 years. The fact that only 18 new vessels appeared among the violators in 8 months of 2016, and that only seven violators from 2014 returned to Crimean routes, shows the appearance of more or less permanent "Crimean merchant fleet".

Occupied Sevastopol: Grain being loaded onto Turkish vessel MERT DEVAL, bound for Northern Cyprus, July 31, 2014 (photo by: modgahead-sev.livejournal.com)

By 2016 more than a half of 260 vessels of so-called "Crimean merchant fleet" enlisted in the "black list" – 134 (51,5%), including 50 vessels flying Russian flag – stopped working for Crimean seaports. As of August 15 2016 there are 126 vessels in the "black list" of the fully operational "Crimean merchant fleet", including 89 (70,6%) under Russian flag.

This situation is the result of many factors, including Ukrainian and international sanctions; on the other hand, it illustrates the level of respect or disrespect of governmental bodies (flag administrations) of certain states regarding UN and EU decisions. In the tables below the activities of vessels from different states, coursing to occupied Crimea linked to the fact how these states voted at the 80th plenary meeting of United Nations General Assembly on March 27 2014, resolution in question - 68/262 "Territorial integrity of Ukraine".

By August 15 2016, trade vessels from of 14 states of 32 identified in 2014-2015 continue coursing to occupied Crimea.

Read also: EU's principles vs. Russia's 'I don't care' policy - expert analysis

Among them, two vessels under the flag of EU and NATO member, Bulgaria, which belong to subsidiary of Russian "Lukoil" (gas tankers). 11 vessels under Togo flag, 5 – under Mongolian, 4 under Tanzanian, the rest are single cases under flags of China, Moldova and various offshore islands.

Official delegations of five stated among 14 enlisted below, voted in favor the mentioned resolution.

The number of vessels violating the Legal Regime on the Occupied Territory of Crimea which continue to enter Crimean seaports in 2016, by state flags

By 2016 trade vessels under flags of 18 states stopped coming to occupied Crimea. 11 of them voted in favor of the mentioned UN resolution.  Besides, 11 of 18 states, including EU members Italy and Malta, have removed vessels under their flags from the Crimean ports back in 2014.

The number of vessels violating the Legal Regime on the Occupied Territory of Crimea, which stopped to come to Crimean seaports in 2016, by state flags

None of this means that all the vessels under the flags of countries listed above stopped coming to Crimea at all. Part of them re-registered under flags of other countries to be able to continue visiting Crimean seaports. Nevertheless, we can claim that UN decision on March 27 2014 continues to influence shipping in the occupied Crimea.

Change of flags

During the occupation period 60 merchant vessels have changed flags under which they got into the "black list" in 2014 – 2015 (in most cases they changed names and owners as well). Among them were EU countries such as Greece, Malta, Italy, Cyprus, but also Panama, Turkey, Moldova and Cambodia.

Video of Russian military units, transported to Crimea via 'Maria' ferry, bought from Greece

 23 (38,3%) of 60 violator vessels, which changed flags between March 18 2014 and August 15 2016, abandoned their former flags to go under the Russian one. Among them:

  • 9 ferries: 6 under Greek flag, 1 under Cyprian, 1 under Italian and 1 under Palau; all sold to Russians by previous owners.
  • 2 expropriated Ukrainian ferries and 3 bulk carriers, enlisted to Crimean ports before the occupation and earlier registered under Ukrainian flag.
  • 2 Turkish bulk carriers, sold by owners to Russian Ministry of Defense.

In general, we can conclude that rather active process of changing flags by violator vessels is the consequence of acting on international sanctions.

Read also: US sanctions firms of Putin's allies building Kerch Bridge in annexed Crimea

Vessel-owners view going under the flag of state-occupant or under flags of other countries that did not condemn the annexation of Crimea as a mechanism for minimization of legal complications while continuing operations at the Crimean ports under sanctions.

Note, that the process of going under different flag usually goes together with formal change of country of owner's registration – usually it is the occupant state, Russia, or offshore islands. It is considered as a mechanism of minimizing administrative risks in the country of actual stay of ship-owner. (The analysts will survey this in separate study). 

On our site you can read full version of the report. Also we present the full database on 'violator' vessels by country.

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