Concern mounts for crew stranded in Mariupol

Concern is mounting for the crew stranded in the beleaguered port of Mariupol as fighting in the town – and near the wharf – has intensified with thousands of civilians dead and unconfirmed reports that Russian forces have used chemical weapons in the region.

Russia was accused yesterday by Ukrainian forces of dropping chemical weapons via drone on Mariupol. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted: “Reports that Russian forces may have used chemical agents in an attack on residents of Mariupol. We are urgently working with partners to verify the details. Any use of such weapons would be a ruthless escalation in this conflict and we will hold Putin and his regime to account.

Mariupol lies in ruins, with local authorities saying around 90% of the city was destroyed and the death toll is believed to be over 10,000.

“Mariupol has been destroyed, there are tens of thousands of dead, but despite this the Russians are not stopping their offensive,” Ukrainian President Zelenskiy said last night. The city’s mayor said the death toll was between 10,000 and 20,000.

There are around 100,000 people still trapped in the city, surrounded by Russian forces. Prior to the February 24 invasion, the port city had a population of just under 400,000.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk today said nine humanitarian corridors would open across the country for civilians to evacuate, including from Mariupol.

Pro-Russian militias claimed on Monday they had captured the city’s port area, which has since been denied by Ukrainian forces as fighting continues.

Ukrainian officials said yesterday that the Russian military seized the 19 crew members of the Liberian-flagged 15,698 dwt bulk carrier Smarta along with the captain’s wife. The ship had come under fire before boarding, becoming the 11th confirmed strike by merchant shipping since the invasion began 48 days ago. The crew’s whereabouts are unknown, while the ship remains moored at the western end of Mariupol Harbor.

The heads of the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on Friday called for urgent action to protect sailors and ships stranded in Ukrainian ports and nearby waters.

In a joint letter addressed to the heads of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), the Director General of the ILO, Guy Ryder, and IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim described the plight of seafarers on more than 100 commercial vessels that cannot leave Ukrainian ports and nearby waters. According to the IMO, no less than 1,000 sailors are trapped.