The manager of a merchant vessel trapped in Odessa, one of Ukraine’s biggest ports, is concerned his ship and crew are about to get caught between the warring parties.

“We strongly fear that [the] ship and her crew will be used as human shields!” the manager told TradeWinds in an e-mail.

Military activity at the port has increased, said the manager who is in constant touch with the bulker’s crew.

Ukrainian naval vessels have taken positions between ships berthed at Odessa port and are occasionally firing missiles towards land and the sea, the manager said.

“We hear from other agents and owners that ships at the port will be requested soon to turn off their AIS as they are expecting attack from sea any time soon,” he added.

A Russian attack may have had already taken place, had the weather been better, he speculated.

‘What was he supposed to do?’

Ukraine shut down operations at all its terminals on 24 February, the day it was invaded by Russia.

Ships stuck at the country’s ports haven’t been allowed to set sail since.

“We have been working very hard to get the vessel out of Odessa but don’t seem to have had any luck,” the manager said.

A Greek owner who has a vessel trapped in a different Ukrainian port told TradeWinds earlier in the day that peers in the same position were “tearing their hair” because they didn't know what to do.

Flag authorities aren’t able to assist or are advising that it’s safer to stay in port after some ships were shelled in the Black Sea last week.

TradeWinds is told that a Greek owner managed to get his small clean tanker to safety in Romanian waters — only to be embroiled in a row with the ship’s charterer who protested that the vessel didn’t stay put.

“What else was the master supposed to do — stay around while shells were flying all around him?” a third shipping source told TradeWinds.

Odessa is one of Ukraine’s biggest commercial ports, alongside Chornomorsk, Pivdennyi/Yuzhny and Mykolaiv.

All these terminals are still under Ukrainian control.

“I hope that Ukraine and Russia will come to an agreement to allow ships to sail,” said the ship manager with the vessel trapped in Odessa.