Fears grow for all seafarers caught-up in Russian aggression

The Merchant Navy Welfare Board (MNWB) has launched an emergency sim card fund of £5,000 to ensure Ukrainian seafarers can contact loved ones back home, while estimates suggest there are more than 2,000 other nationality seafarers stranded in Ukrainian waters.

Latest data from shipping platform Sea shows there are still 100 merchant ships in Ukrainian waters, down by more than 50% since the conflict started 12 days ago, according to Splash and embassies and consulates are working around the clock to get affected crew out of the country.

The fund to help Ukrainian seafarers, formed by the umbrella charity for the UK Merchant Navy and fishing fleets, will cover the cost of sim cards and top-ups, as Russia’s invasion over Ukraine intensifies.

Charities within the maritime sector that provide welfare support to seafarers and fishers are eligible to apply for grants for a maximum of £250 to ensure money is evenly distributed.

It’s estimated there around 75,000 Ukrainian seafarers across the world, with many thousands of miles away from their families.

Stuart Rivers, chief executive of the charity says: “Some of the stories we’ve heard from Ukrainian seafarers are absolutely heart-breaking. Many have seen their homes destroyed and their families flea to unknown locations – and the situation is only getting worse.

“Putting this fund together is the least we can do during this crisis. Hopefully, the phone calls made from seafarers, who could be thousands of miles from home, will offer some kind of reassurance. The welfare of them, and their families, is of upmost importance and we will work closely with our constituent charities to offer as much support as possible.”

Yachts for Ukraine act to seize property held by Russian elites – including yachts

According to Business Insider, US lawmakers are trying to introduce a new bill that would seize Russian elites’ yachts and assets, further intensifying the US’ economic sanctions on Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine.

The Yachts for Ukraine act would permit authorities to seize any property held by Russian elites in the US that is valued above $5 million. That includes bank accounts, real estate, and superyachts.

The bill, which is led by Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey and Republican Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, would also allow the US to sell the seized assets and use the cash to aid Ukraine. Authority provided by the bill would last for two years after its passage, giving President Joe Biden prolonged power over Russian oligarchs parking their wealth in the US.

These Russian-owned yachts must be in the US’ territorial waters in order for the US to seize them, explains Benjamin Maltby, partner at UK-based Keystone Law who specialises in superyacht and luxury asset law. “Safe spaces are going to be few and far between,” Maltby says. He thinks small island nations, like the Maldives, may not to want be seen colluding with Russian oligarchs to defeat sanctions and could choose to take action following the US’ sanctions.

Teen keeps track of Russian superyachts

The teen tracking Russian oligarchs’ jets is now targeting their superyachts, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Jack Sweeney created @RussiaYachts on Saturday, a Twitter bot that monitors and publishes the on-water whereabouts of super-wealthy Russians.

“I just kept getting more and more people in my direct messages saying, ‘Can you do the yachts, too?’ So, I did it,” says Sweeney.

His @RussiaYachts account follows the movements of 23 luxury boats, some of which are owned by the same Russian billionaires Sweeney is tracking in the air at @RUOligarchJets.

Sweeney’s jet-tracking bots rely on public data from plane transponders that log longitude, latitude and altitude and calculate location based on an algorithm he created in 2020. For yachts, he relies on similar data that comes from onboard safety devices that transmit and monitor the locations of large vessels.

Sweeney says one thing is simpler about tracking yachts over planes: It is much easier to figure out which oligarch owns which boat.

Forbes has published its list of superyachts in the firing line, and where to find them.

VesselsValue’s head of superyachts, Sam Tucker told Forbes that yacht “ownership is notoriously private”. The firm has 90% confidence in its data on these yachts, which are generally owned through offshore companies registered everywhere from the Isle of Man to the Cayman Islands. Collectively, the 36 yachts on Forbes’ lists are worth at least $4 billion. The eight yachts owned by sanctioned Russian billionaires are worth nearly $1 billion.

“Technically speaking, these yachts are owned by a special purpose vehicle, often being in a different jurisdiction to the beneficial owner,” Tucker says. “There are also lease systems, which further distance the [owner] from the asset.” Lease systems are legal structures commonly used to purchase yachts, allowing individuals to own a yacht through a separate company—often registered in places such as Malta and Cyprus—that then leases the yacht to the individual.”

Commercial ships hit by projectiles

Many shipping firms have suspended journeys to Black Sea ports and other terminals in Ukraine amid soaring recent insurance premiums for such voyages. At least three commercial ships have been hit separately by projectiles since 24Feb when Russia’s invasion began.

Viktor Vyshnov, deputy head of Ukraine’s Maritime Administration, told Reuters six crew members from the Marshall Islands-flagged Helt (which later sunk) were picked up by Ukraine’s rescue service and taken to a hospital in nearby Chernomorsk after floating in cold water for many hours, but he had no further details.

The rescue was confirmed by Igor Ilves, managing director of the Helt’s Tallinn-based manager Vista Shipping Agency.

Late on Wednesday, a missile or bomb struck a Bangladeshi-owned cargo ship in the Black Sea port of Olvia, killing one of its crew members.

“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 crew are unharmed.”

Last week, Marine Industry News reported how the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the shipping industry’s principal international trade association, has urged shipowners to ensure seafarers do not become ‘collateral damage’ of Russian sanctions following the Ukraine invasion.

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