Focus Ukraine Crisis - International Maritime Shipping: Seafarers in Distress

Our shipping expert Prof. Dr. Max Johns reports on the situation of affected ships and their crews in Ukrainian ports.

After the last humanitarian crisis at sea triggered by Corona, which trapped over 100,000 seafarers on their freighters, the situation for ships and especially ship crews in the war zone is now even more desperate: over 1,000 seafarers are currently stuck on their ships in Ukraine's ports, with virtually no chance of leaving the area by sea. Our shipping expert Prof. Dr. Max Johns, head of the Maritime Business School, whose research also deals with social issues such as safety and the working situation of seafarers, explains how this could come about, what consequences this could have for trade at sea and reports on the situation of affected ships and their crews in Ukrainian ports.  

There are currently around one hundred ships still stuck in Ukraine's ports. Why were the ships unable to leave the area after the Russian attack in mid-February?  
It was an attack that took the shipping companies and seafarers as much by surprise as it did the population of Ukraine. Within a few hours it was only possible to leave the ports at great risk, as mines or shelling by warships were already to be expected. 
 
How are the seafarers stuck on ships in Ukraine's ports? How safe are they? 
No port is safe from shelling, so all seafarers still on ships are also in danger. Unfortunately, several civilian ships have already been fired upon. There have been deaths and injuries. Some ships can already no longer be supplied, so food is now becoming scarce.  
 
The IMO (International Maritime Organisation) is calling for the establishment of a "Blue Safe Corridor" to bring seafarers and ships from the endangered and affected areas in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov to a safe place. The German shipowners' association VDR is also calling for all ships and their crews to be allowed to leave the region. What conditions would have to be created for this? 
It is to be hoped that the affected seafarers can be evacuated in this way. The Russian navy in particular would have to guarantee safe passage. It is particularly complicated to get out of the ports at all. In addition, both sides have laid out minefields that make civilian navigation almost impossible. 

Many companies in the shipping industry, such as HHLA from Hamburg, were able to evacuate their port workers and their families from the crisis area in time. What can shipping companies do to help their crews? 
German shipping companies have also been affected and have already made extreme efforts to evacuate their seafarers. For the crews, it was a matter of getting them safely out of the country with or without a ship. This has not yet been achieved everywhere.
 
Of the 1.8 million seafarers worldwide, 10% are Russian and about 5% Ukrainian. Does it happen that both nations work together on one ship? Can this also lead to serious conflicts or do colleagues stick together?  
Ukraine and Russia are indeed the most important European seafaring nations today. Very often they have been deployed together so far. At first, there have been many actions of solidarity between the two nationalities on board. However, the longer the war goes on, the more likely it is that tensions will arise. Many shipping companies try to avoid joint deployment. 
 
What do Ukrainian seafarers who are on Russian ships or in Russian ports have to fear?
This is a particularly unpleasant issue: several Ukrainian seafarers have been picked up in Russian ports by the police or other security forces without giving any reason and have disappeared. This is against all law. Shipping companies therefore go to great lengths to ensure that Ukrainian seafarers can disembark beforehand. However, this is extremely complicated under Corona restrictions that are still in force, especially in Asia. 

Apart from the devastating humanitarian emergency, what other consequences does this situation, with cargo ships stuck for weeks and no improvement in sight, have for global supply chains and maritime trade? 
A good hundred ships are still stuck in the war zone. With a world fleet of over 100,000 merchant ships, that doesn't make much difference. The situation is completely different, of course, with the huge shifts in the movement of goods that are emerging: large additional quantities of gas that previously came to Europe through pipelines are now coming by ship from the USA, Qatar and other countries. Likewise, oil from Russia is now probably taking completely new routes and being delivered to other customers. Arab oil, for example, is filling the gap. It is still unclear where and how the large quantities of grain (especially wheat) from Ukraine will be replaced if the harvest fails. In general, many companies are thinking about shortening and diversifying their supply chains. If this happens, the maps of trade routes will have to be redrawn.
 

HSBA offers refugee students from Ukraine not only support in the form of advice on residence issues or help with finding a job at one of our partner companies, but also a full scholarship for our international Master's programme in Innovation Management. The programme director is Prof. Dr. Max Johns.