Tayfun Ozberk story with additional reporting by Xavier Vavasseur, illustration by H I Sutton
Among the rumors about the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s likely amphibious deployment to the Odessa coast, a terrible occurrence threatening Black Sea freedom of navigation: An Estonian-owned cargo ship sank today off the coast of Ukraine. A sea mine is likely the cause even though naval ships activity from both the Russian Navy and Ukrainian Navy have been observed in the past couple of days (see image above).
Following the explosion, four crew members are still missing, and two are in a life raft at sea. Search and Rescue operations are still ongoing in the area to find missing people.
According to the most recent Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmissions, the ship was anchored off the coast of Ukraine and vanished from radar at about 12.18 p.m. local time. The ship struck a sea mine and sank, according to Igor Ilves, managing director of ship manager Vista Shipping Agency.
Helt (IMO: 8402589, MMSI: 354831000) was a Panamian-flagged 2,100 dwt general cargo ship, but the crew’s nationality was not stated.
According to the most recent AIS data, the ship was anchored, which was surprising information. Because the likelihood of an anchored hitting a sea mine is extremely low. So, we can say that there are two possibilities;
- the ship anchored in a previously mined area and collided with the mine while drifting in the anchor swinging circle
- the mine was released from its chain and drifted on the ocean independently, colliding with the anchored ship
There is no evidence on who mined the region, but there are unconfirmed rumors that Ukrainian ships placed mines as a deterrent to the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s amphibious assault threat. According to the most recent OSINT information, a Russian amphibious convoy was detected south of Crimea, and a landing operation near Odessa is a possibility. Those some of the amphibious ships which transited the Bosphorus last month, including the large LST Ivan Gren.
Meanwhile the Fincancial Times is reporting that Turkey blocked the passage of the Russian Navy Northern Fleet’s Admiral Kasatonov (Project 22350) frigate to the Black Sea. The frigate is fitted with Kalibr cruise missiles and would have been an asset to support the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.