Russia must release detained Ukrainian sailors, maritime tribunal rules

27 Май

Moscow must release 24 sailors who were aboard three Ukrainian vessels it intercepted in November as they crossed a strait between Russian-annexed Crimea and southern Russia, an international maritime tribunal said on Saturday.

ITLOS report see here: https://www.itlos.org/cases/list-of-cases/case-no-26/

The Russian navy had captured the Ukrainian sailors and their vessels in the Kerch Strait, which links the Black and Azov seas, on Nov. 25, 2018 after opening fire on them.

The Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) said Russia had to release the sailors and vessels immediately and both nations should refrain from taking any action which might aggravate the dispute.

«The Tribunal notes that any action affecting the immunity of warships is capable of causing serious harm to the dignity and sovereignty of a state and has the potential to undermine its national security,» ITLOS President Jin-Hyun Paik said.

Ukraine has already demanded the sailors’ release and the return of the impounded vessels, yet Moscow has not heeded the request or similar calls by the EU.

Russia’s foreign ministry said on Saturday it had not participated in the hearings, adding it intends to defend its point of view that the arbitration lacked the jurisdiction to consider the Kerch incident.

The ITLOS was established to settle maritime disputes by the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which both Ukraine and Russia are signatories. But it has no means of enforcing its decisions.

The dispute resolution procedures provided by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea are not applicable to the settlement of last November’s Kerch Strait incident, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

«As previously noted by the Russian side, statements made by both Russia and Ukraine, when signing and ratifying the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, rule out the possibility of using the Convention’s dispute resolution procedures regarding the incident of November 25, 2018 in the Kerch Strait,» the ministry said in a statement.

«In the course of the subsequent arbitration proceedings, we intend to consistently defend our position, including the lack of jurisdiction of arbitration to consider this situation in the light of the circumstances mentioned above,» the ministry said. It urged the Ukrainian side to take actions to meet the requirements of the Russian legislation concerning navigation in this area, according to the statement.

Tensions have flared up between Russia and Ukraine following the Kerch Strait incident. Moscow called the incident a political provocation, while Kiev denied any wrongdoing and Western countries denounced the «aggressive» actions of Russia.

Russia did not participate in Saturday’s session of the ITLOS and the previous hearing in connection with this incident, as it has repeatedly said that the tribunal has no jurisdiction to review the incident.

«The Tribunal’s order is a clear signal to Russia that it cannot violate international law with impunity,» Ukraine Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal said on Facebook, adding she expected Russia to comply with the order quickly.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said if Russia releases the Ukrainian sailors and ships it could be the first signal from the Russian leadership of its readiness to end the conflict with Ukraine.

Russia must release detained Ukrainian sailors, maritime tribunal rules