Risks all at sea as Ukraine looks to break Russian maritime blockade

It is a month until marine underwriters arrive in the Scottish capital Edinburgh for the annual conference of the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI).

This week has created another twist in which has been a huge year for the marine insurance market.

Wednesday saw a container ship leave the Port of Odessa, in defiance to the Russian naval threats to vessels in the Black Sea following the collapse of the Black Sea Grain Corridor deal.

Having been stranded in the port since the Russian invasion in February 2022 the ship which has 30,000 tonnes of cargo is heading for Istanbul at a time when Russian president Valdimir Putin was set to meet his Turkish opposite number.

The move was announced in social media by Ukraine’s minister for the infrastructure of Ukraine, Oleksandr Kubrakov, who explained “Container ship, Joseph Schulte, (Hong Kong flag) is proceeding through [a] corridor established for civilian vessels to and from the Black Sea ports of Ukraine.”

He added: “This transport corridor will be primarily used to evacuate ships that were in ports at the time of the full-scale invasion of Russia. Joseph Schulte which had been in the port of Odesa since February 23, 2022, is carrying more than 30K tons of cargo.”

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy described the transit as an “important step toward restoring the freedom of navigation in the Black Sea.”

“Ukraine had officially notified the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) of the corridor’s operation,” he explained. “The IMO reaffirmed Ukraine’s right to ensure freedom of navigation and urged Russia to cease threats and uphold international conventions.”

Russia has made it clear that since the end of the grain corridor agreement s any vessels travelling to Ukrainian ports will be considered military targets.

It comes on the back of rising fears over onboard fires, with IUMI steeping into the debate following the fire on the Fremantle Highway, transporting cars which suffered a serious fire three weeks ago with 500 electric vehicles as part of the cargo.

“The fire onboard the car carrier Fremantle Highway and the tragic loss of a seafarer has brought the debate surrounding the transport of electric vehicles (EVs) by sea into sharp focus,” it said in a statement. “Fremantle Highway caught fire off the coast of the Dutch island of Ameland on 26 July. The vessel was carrying nearly 3,800 new cars of which around 500 were EVs. There is speculation that the fire was caused by an EV battery, but the cause of the fire is not actually known yet.”

IUMI added: “Ship fires are a real concern for marine insurers and the shipping industry as a whole. IUMI has long advocated for better fire detection and extinguishing systems which must be specifically tailored for different vessel types. However, to date, no fire onboard a roro or Pure Car and Truck Carrier (PCTC) has been proven to have been caused by a factory-new EV. IUMI understands that the transportation of EVs raises certain risks that are different to those involved in carrying internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) but research suggests that the risks are not heightened or more dangerous. Focus must be on identifying risks and safety measures related to new energy vehicles such as EVs, how to mitigate these, and on engaging with class and regulators to develop necessary rules, standards and guidelines to ensure their safe transportation. Work to this end is already on the agenda of the IMO’s Sub-Committee on Ship Systems and Equipment.”

The agenda in Edinburgh is set to be one of the most critical to the sector’s future for decades, given that the pressure to decarbonise global maritime operations is bui8lding at a time when news risks are emerging and owners, operators, and the supply chain have been placed under immense stress due to the global economy and the invasion of Ukraine.

Navigation will be key as marine underwriters find their clients are looking to them for answers to a dynamic and ever more complex risk environment.

Jon Guy, Editor,

Emerging Risks