Seafarers aboard four ships trapped in the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol have been taken by Russian forces and sent to Russia-controlled Donetsk.
According to messages obtained by TradeWinds, the crew members — including at least a dozen Ukrainians — are being evacuated days after the 6,142-gt Azburg (built 1995) was shelled for several hours before sinking.
“There is no more information” on the seafarers and their whereabouts, one of the messages read. “There is no contact with them either.
“We expect upon their arrival that someone will make contact.”
The crew members are working aboard three general cargo ships, the 3,254-gt Blue Star I (built 2005), the 4,355-gt Lady Augusta (built 1995) and the 6,483-gt Azov Concord (built 2008), and the 15,968-dwt bulker Smarta (built 2007).
The Azburg sank on Monday after being shelled overnight by Russia as fighting raged in Mariupol, the Dominica Maritime Administration said. The administration later confirmed that the ship had 12 crew members, all Ukrainians, who ended up taking shelter on the other ships.
It is unclear how many more seafarers are on these ships or their nationalities.
Donetsk is approximately 100km west of Ukraine’s border with Russia.
The city is the capital of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, established by Russian-backed separatists in 2014.
Since, the self-proclaimed breakaway republic has reportedly become home to what Ukrainian authorities are calling “filtration camps” where Ukrainians forcibly taken from the key port city of Mariupol are placed before further deportation into Russia.
Mariupol mayor Vadym Boychenko said in a social media message reported by Fox News that 31,000 of the city’s residents have been taken from the city.
Earlier this week, a Ukrainian woman told The Guardian newspaper that Russian soldiers stormed a bomb shelter in Mariupol on 15 March, and ordered the women and children out.
The woman has been hiding with family outside Mariupol, but others were put on a bus, taken into eastern Ukraine, forced into tents and questioned about the Ukrainian military, their thoughts on the conflict and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian government has denied the accusations, but state-owned media has reported 5,000 Ukrainians have been processed through one camp and that it was necessary to keep “Ukrainian nationalists” out.
“The answer is yes,” Dominica deputy maritime administrator Eric Dawicki said when asked if he was concerned the Azburg's former crew was being taken to Donetsk.
“The Russians are controlling the passage routes.”
The ships’ various flag states and ownership interests have been approached for comment.
One, Odessa-based Fetida Maritime, confirmed it was the manager of the Blue Star I, but did not elaborate further.
Liberia, which flags the Smarta, confirmed Russian forces had taken the crew, but said it did not know where and did not know the make-up of the crew. It said it was in contact with the ship’s owner and manager.
Of the four ships, all arrived on 24 February, when Russia began its full-scale invasion including shelling Mariupol, or just before, according to automatic identification (AIS) data.
AIS shows the Smarta arriving in port on 22 February, where it stayed until 2 March, when it reappeared in the Singapore Strait the next day.
The Smarta is included in the list of ships with seafarers being evacuated seen by TradeWinds.