Ukrainian grain ship hits Russian mine in Black Sea

A civilian cargo ship struck a Russian mine in the Black Sea near Ukraine’s Danube ports on Thursday, officials and analysts said, in an incident that underscored the dangers faced by those exporting Ukrainian grain during the war.

The Panama-flagged vessel struck the floating mine during stormy weather as it went to pick up grain, according to Ukraine’s Southern Defence Forces, adding that churning seas often increase the risk from mines. 

Two sailors were reportedly injured.

As the fighting grinds on through the winter and likely into a third year after Russia’s February 2022 invasion, and with little recent change along the front line, Ukraine is aiming to strengthen its financial resources for what could be a protracted war.

After Russia pulled out of a U.N.-brokered export agreement last summer, Ukraine launched a new Black Sea shipping corridor to get grain, metals and other cargo to world markets. That has given a boost to Ukraine’s agriculture-dependent economy.

The mine incident occurred about 130 kilometres south-west of Chornomorsk, which is near Odesa on Ukraine’s southern coast, the Ambrey maritime risk analysis company said. The ship with 18 crew was on its way to Izmail, another port in the area.

The mine detonated at the ship’s stern, causing equipment and machinery failure and resulting in the vessel losing power, Ambrey said. 

The captain reportedly manoeuvred into shallow water to prevent the ship from sinking.

The incident comes as the future of the war hangs in the balance, with Ukraine’s key Western allies struggling to keep their electorates and political opponents on board with supporting Kyiv.

Ukraine’s much-anticipated counteroffensive last summer ultimately failed to shift the front line despite the deployment of billions of dollars in Western weaponry.

That has given confidence to the Kremlin’s forces, especially as the future of Western aid is in question and the conflict in Israel and Gaza drives Ukraine down the news agenda.

However, as US legislators wrangle over how much aid to send to Ukraine and for how long, a key Washington think tank has argued that the front line is not currently “a stable stalemate.” 

In an assessment released late on Wednesday, the Institute for the Study of War assessed that “the current balance can be tipped in either direction by decisions made in the West or in Russia, and limited Russian gains could become significant especially if the West cuts off military aid to Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that the US and European Union countries plan to continue sending help to the Ukrainian government.

“Neither Washington nor Brussels refrain from assisting the Kyiv regime because they realise it would be doomed without such assistance,” Lavrov said in an interview with state news agency Tass.

“They remain committed to containing Russia at the expense of Ukrainians and their lives.”

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