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Ukraine has sought to reassure shipowners of the viability of its trade corridor through the Black Sea after a cargo ship collecting iron ore for steel giant ArcelorMittal was damaged during a Russian missile strike near Odesa.
This is the first time a civilian vessel has been hit in this way since the early days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, though there has been damage from mines laid in the sea.
After Russia’s exit in July from a Black Sea grain deal to facilitate exports, Ukraine has been steering vessels along its coast, confident that its onshore defence systems could deter a Russian assault.
The Ukrainian government, which has been focused on securing support for the corridor from shipping companies to maintain its international trade, released few details about the incident.
On Wednesday evening, Ukraine’s southern military command said the superstructure of a Liberian-flagged civilian vessel had been damaged while entering one of the Odesa region’s three active ports.
Photos of the damage released by Ukraine and marine tracking data suggest the ship was the Liberian-flagged bulk carrier Kmax Ruler and that the ship’s bridge was hit.
One of the port’s pilots was killed and another port employee was injured. Three of the ship’s crew members — Philippine nationals — were also injured, according to Ukraine’s authorities. ArcelorMittal confirmed that the ship was due to carry its cargo. Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, said the iron ore was destined for China.
On Thursday, Kubrakov insisted the trade corridor was still active despite Russian attacks on Ukraine’s ports. Six ships carrying 231,000 tonnes of agricultural products had departed from Odesa region ports since the attack and five more were waiting at port entrances to load, he said.
Writing on the social media platform X, Kubrakov said vessel traffic on the corridor “continues both to and from the ports”. He added that Ukrainian defence forces “are doing everything possible to resist the attacks of the aggressor country on the port infrastructure”.
Intercargo, which represents shipowners, condemned what it called an act of aggression and said it was “a stark reminder of the fragility of maritime safety and security”. It added: “Bulk carriers, manned by innocent seafarers, represent the epitome of non-combatant vessels.”
It was not immediately clear whether the ship was the target of the strike or was hit during an attack on port infrastructure — or hit by debris from Ukrainian air defences. But Ukraine’s MTWTU maritime union said the ship had been hit by a missile targeting vessels’ radar systems. That would suggest a deliberate attempt to hit the ship.
Neil Roberts, head of marine insurance at the Lloyd’s Market Association, said it still made economic sense at present for insurers, cargo owners, charterers and shipowners to continue shipments. But shipowners had to consider the safety of their crew and if attacks continued, there might be a rethink.
Roberts said there would probably be at least a temporary rise in war risk insurance premiums for the area.
Additional reporting by Robert Wright, Roman Olearchyk and Alexandra White