One killed as two cargo ships hit by explosions off Ukraine

An Estonian-owned cargo ship has sunk off Ukraine’s major Black Sea port of Odesa, hours after a Bangladeshi vessel was hit by a missile or bomb at another port.

Many shipping firms have suspended sailings to affected Black Sea ports and other terminals in Ukraine as Russia’s invasion of the country enters its second week.

At least three commercial ships have been hit by projectiles since February 24.

Two crew members from the Marshall Islands-flagged and Estonian-owned Helt cargo ship were in a life raft at sea while four others were unaccounted for, Igor Ilves, managing director of Tallinn-based manager Vista Shipping Agency, told the Reuters news agency on Thursday.

“The vessel has finally sunk,” he said. “Two of the crew are in a raft on the water and four others are missing. I don’t know where they are at the moment.”

Ilves said the vessel might have struck a mine.

“It’s a big problem – nobody can help them. The Ukrainians cannot go to sea because it is under Russian control.”

Ilves said the crew comprised four Ukrainian nationals, one Russian and one Belarusian.

NATO’s Shipping Center warned on Wednesday that there was “a high risk of collateral damage on civilian shipping in the northwestern part of the Black Sea”, which included mines.

Amid calls for sanctions by the European Union, the three biggest container shipping groups in the world, Danish giant Maersk, Switzerland-based MSC and France’s CMA CGM, and other smaller competitors announced on Tuesday they were suspending non-essential deliveries to Russia.

One seafarer killed

Meanwhile, late on Wednesday evening, a missile or bomb struck a Bangladeshi-owned cargo ship in the Black Sea port of Olvia, killing one of its crew members, and efforts were under way to rescue the others from the vessel, its owner said on Thursday.

“The ship came under attack and one engineer was killed,” Pijush Dutta, executive director of Bangladesh Shipping Corp, told Reuters.

“It was not clear whether it was a bomb or missile or which side launched the attack. The other 28 crewmen are unharmed,” he said, without providing further details.

The Bangladesh-flagged Banglar Samriddhi had been stuck in Olvia since the Russian invasion began on February 24, and was hit by a missile, a Bangladeshi foreign ministry official said.

Olvia is located in the Dnipro-Bug estuary on the Black Sea coast, 15km (9 miles) south of Mykolaiv and about 110km (70 miles) east of Odesa.

In the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, the Russian embassy said in an English-language statement on its Facebook page that the circumstances of the incident were “being established”.

“We express deep condolences to the near and dear ones of the deceased. The Russian side bends every effort to ensure safe departure of the Bangladeshi ship from the port,” it said.

Video clips on social media showed crew members asking for help after the ship was hit.

In one video, the vessel’s second engineer said the ship had been hit by a rocket with one crewmate already dead.

“We have no power supply. Emergency generator power supply is running. We are on the verge of death. We have not been rescued yet. Please save us,” the seafarer said.

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