Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The captain of the Crimean “Nord” fishing seiner faces a prison term in Ukraine. The fishermen are accused by Kiev of having Russian nationality, and also of “inflicting harm to the State”. Thus experts consider that the Ukrainian border service, which forcibly sent the vessel to the port of Berdyansk, went too far. In Russia such actions are regarded as hijacking a vessel and kidnapping. Experts consider that ships of the Black Sea Fleet patrolling the area is the only thing that can bring order in this situation. The material of RT concerns the piracy policy of Kiev and Moscow’s possible answer.
The captain of the “Nord” Russian vessel that was earlier detained by Ukrainian border guards was taken in an unknown direction. As the representative of the shipowner – the “Baltic Coast” company – reported, the location of Vladimir Gorbenko hasn’t yet been established. On Wednesday, April 4th, the first hearing in the Ukrainian courts concerning the case of “Nord” should’ve taken place.
The Ukrainian coastguard detained the Russian vessel on March 25th in the Sea of Azov. As the State Border Service of Ukraine reported, “Nord” was stopped “in Ukrainian waters”.
On March 31st, the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office showed suspicion to the captain of the “Nord” fishing seiner registered in Crimea under Article 332-1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (“Violation of the order of entrance to the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine and departure from it for the purpose of inflicting harm to the interests of the State”). Imprisonment for a period of up to three years with the confiscation of property is provided for this. If the crime was committed by an official, the term of punishment can be from three to five years, and if it concerns an organised group — from five to eight years.
“Like Somali pirates”
As the captain of “Nord” Vladimir Gorbenko told RT in an earlier interview, at the time the vessel was detained it was in the authorised area determined by the joint Ukrainian-Russian agreement.
According to the sailor, fishing in the designated area has been conducted for many years by both Russian and Ukrainian vessels.
In addition, it is probable that this concerns the exclusive economic zone. Ukrainian border guards stated that the vessel was 15 miles from the Obytichnyi Spit, whereas in most cases the width of the territorial waters doesn’t exceed 12 nautical miles. This norm is written down in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which Ukraine is also a party to.
Ukraine explained the detention of the “Nord” seiner by saying: the vessel was registered in the Republic of Crimea, which, according to Kiev, Russia “occupied” in 2014. Kiev also considered that the crew of “Nord” violated the departure order from the “temporarily occupied area”. The sailors were also charged with having new Russian passports issued in Kerch.
The Ukrainian authorities suggested to the fishermen to refuse their Russian nationality — their relatives can simply bring their old Ukrainian passports. In this case the border guards promised to release the crew of the seiner, however all sailors refused to do this. The captain of the vessel explained that crew would be prosecuted anyway, but as citizens of Ukraine.
As Rosrybolovstvo [Russia’s Federal Agency for Fishery – ed] noted, according to the “procedure for withdrawal by commercial and other vessels of aquatic biological resources in the waters of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait for 2018” that Russia and Ukraine approved last year, the vessel must return to its port of basing or departure even if it violated trade rules. Only after this can a decision be made on possible sanctions on the management of the ship. However, in the case of “Nord” the Ukrainian border guards behaved differently: the seiner was directed to the port of the Ukrainian Berdyansk under the threat of force.
As a result Rosrybolovstvo suspended all agreements made earlier with Ukraine, it is said on the website of the Russian department.
In addition, the leadership of the FSB in Crimea initiated a criminal case under article of Article 211 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Hijacking of an Aircraft, a Sea-going Ship, or a Railway Train”) against the Ukrainian border guards who detained the Russian fishermen.
As the Deputy Prime Minister of the Crimean government Igor Mikhailychenko stated, the Ukrainian side flagrantly violated the norms of international law, in particular, the aforementioned UN Convention.
The official representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Maria Zakharova called the actions of the Ukrainian side “another provocative escapade”.
“When it came to the crew of the vessel, the Ukrainian border guards behaved simply like Somali pirates,” stressed Zakharova.
RIA Novosti, with reference to an unnamed source in law enforcement structures, reported on April 3rd about the readiness of the command of the Black Sea Fleet to ensure the safety of navigation in the Black and Azov Seas.
According to the source, the aggressive actions of the Ukrainian coastguard allow us to talk about real piracy being raised in Ukraine to the State level. Therefore the Black Sea Fleet is ready to ensure the safety of civil navigation in the region via a continuous presence in northeastern part of the Black Sea and in the zone of the Azov basin. The press service of the Black Sea Fleet refused to comment to RT regarding this information.
They suffer for Crimea
Now the Ukrainian authorities refuse to allow the Russian Consul onto the vessel where the fishermen are being kept, declaring that allegedly “there are no citizens of Russia” onboard.
This is not the first instance where the Ukrainian border guards have seized a vessel, accusing sailors of entering Crimean ports. A year ago, in March, 2017, the Ukrainian authorities confiscated the “Sky Moon” vessel registered in Tanzania going from the Crimea to Moldova. It became the first decision of this kind, although the relevant law was adopted in 2014. However, for the fishing ports of Crimea there was an exception, Kiev introduced a ban on visiting them only in April, 2016.
In November, 2016, Ukrainian border guards kidnapped two Russian border guards — Maksim Odintsov and Aleksandr Baranov, having enticed them to Ukrainian territory near the “Dzhankoy” checkpoint. The Russian Ministry of Defence characterised these actions as a kidnapping. In February, 2018, the Darnitsky regional court of Kiev sentenced Odintsov to 14 years of imprisonment. Baranov received 13 years in a penal colony according to the decision of the Podolsky court. Both servicemen were found guilty of high treason and desertion. Before the accession of Crimea to Russia Baranov and Odintsov served in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but subsequently switched to serve in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.
Not only Russian citizens came into the field of vision of Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, but also German citizens. In February of this year, Ukraine began a pre-judicial investigation under Part 1 of Article 332-1 of Criminal Code concerning German who visited Crimea.
Experts say that regarding the “Nord” seiner there is talk about human rights violations — the Ukrainian authorities consider that they have the power to restrict people’s right to accept the citizenship of this or that State, in this case – the Russian Federation.
At the same time it is said in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948 that nobody can be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality or their right to change their nationality.
Experts consider that the Black Sea Fleet can become the final argument capable of preventing new attacks on Russian vessels by the border service of Ukraine. Experts note that warships, of course, shouldn’t accompany each fishing boat. It is enough for them to be parked near the routes of the merchant fleet. Only this will force the Ukrainian border guards to think before seizing Russian civilian ships.
According to the head of the department of Political Science and Sociology of the University of G.V. Plekhanov Andrey Koshkin, Ukraine violates all rules of interaction between States, especially in the sphere of maritime law.
“The excessive aggression displayed in relation to us is also surprising – they behave like a pirate country,” explained the expert in an interview with RT. “In Somalia the whole world faced pirates literally, the only saving decision was made – military escorts of civilian ships. Such actions need to be taken concerning Ukraine too. Kiev crosses the red line, they want to provoke a conflict to inflate it as ‘Russian aggression'”.
Koshkin considers that it is necessary to attract the international community’s attention in order to liberate the sailors. And Ukraine should be shown that it will no longer be able to attack Russian ships.
“It is difficult to assign a warship to every fishing vessel. But for warships the distance of both the Black and Azov Seas is small — it is possible to simply deploy a combat ship equipped with missiles to protect civilian vessels from possible attacks,” explained Koshkin.
The former commander of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy (1991 — 1992) and retired admiral Igor Kasatonov shares this point of view. In his opinion, the Ukrainian border guards behaved provocatively, having forgotten that the Black Sea Fleet prevails in both the Azov and Black Seas.
“The actions of the Ukrainian border guards are illegal, they are outside the legal framework. Probably, the owner of the ‘Nord’ vessel wasn’t able to think about these circumstances in time, and now the situation entered a very difficult phase. In this situation Ukraine wants to gain certain political dividends and thus politicises the situation. Our sailors are capable of solving all questions and answering adequately — although, of course, our border guards must also act in this zone so that fishermen can work in peace. All the necessary measures will undoubtedly be taken — the Black Sea Fleet won’t stand aside,” summarised Kasatonov.
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