By Jonathan Saul and Ruma Paul
LONDON/DHAKA, March 7 (Reuters) – Bangladeshi seafarer Asiful Islam recalls the moment when a missile struck his cargo ship last week off the Ukrainian port of Olvia, killing his crew mate.
“I was just 15 feet away when it hit our ship. Our third engineer, Hadisur Rahman, who was killed, was standing just two feet away,” Islam told Reuters from Romania after the remaining crew members were evacuated over the weekend.
“All we could do was pray out loud. It was the worst night of my life. I had never been to war zone in my life.”
Many shipping firms have suspended sailings to affected Black Sea ports and other terminals in Ukraine. Insurance premiums for voyages have soared since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, an action Moscow calls a “special operation.”
Merchant shipping crew members of several nations are also among the 1.7 million people the United Nations says who have fled or been evacuated from Ukraine since the invasion.
Before the explosion on the night of March 2-3, Islam’s vessel, the Bangladesh-flagged Banglar Samriddhi, had been stuck in Olvia since Feb. 24 after Ukraine closed its ports.
Ukraine accused the Russian military of targeting the port facilities in a missile strike, while Russia’s embassy in Dhaka said last week the circumstances of the incident were “being established.” Russia denies deliberately targeting civilians.
Islam said the Olvia port authority reached the vessel with three tugboats and it took two hours to put out the fire.
“We were hiding in the control room (engine room) the whole night,” he said. “We heard air bombing many times a few kilometers away from our ship.”
Hours later, an Estonian-owned cargo ship sank off Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Odessa after an explosion. At least three other ships were hit by projectiles before those incidents.
The U.N. shipping agency will convene a special meeting this week to discuss the risks to seafarers and ships in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov as dangers to merchant shipping escalate.
NATO had warned civilian shipping to exercise caution and be on high alert in the area.
Ukraine’s navy said on Monday that their forces defending the Odessa region had hit a Russian vessel in the Black Sea with gunfire.
Ukraine’s Maritime Administration has said there are around 100 foreign flagged vessels with hundreds of seafarers still stuck in Ukrainian ports unable to sail or leave partly due to the fighting but also due to control of the waterways by Russia.
Viktor Vyshnov, deputy head of the administration, told Reuters efforts were under way to evacuate other foreign seafarers stuck in Ukrainian ports. In recent days up to 100 mariners had managed to reach neighboring Moldova from Ukraine before heading to their home nations, he said.
Vyshnov said the ability of authorities to evacuate more seafarers would depend on the situation in various port areas, adding that there was heavy fighting in Mykolaiv, with Mariupol further east encircled by Russia forces.
Greece’ foreign ministry said earlier on Monday that seafarers from the Philippines who worked for a Greek operated ship were among a group of 34 people evacuated from Odessa to Moldova on Monday, without providing further details.
In Bangladesh, Golam Mawla, 21, was hoping the body of his brother Hadisur Rahman, 28, would be repatriated after the strike on the Banglar Samriddhi.
Bangladeshi officials said they were still trying to get Rahman’s body back home.
“All our dreams are shattered. He was the sole breadwinner of our family,” Mawla said.
“My brother often called us from the ship but he never told us anything about the situation. He told us everything was fine so that we would not worry. But later we heard from his friends that he was really worried and wanted to leave Ukraine as soon as possible.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Saul in London and Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Additional reporting by Karolina Tagaris in Athens;Editing by Alison Williams)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2022.
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