16 Apr 2019 20:01

Ukraine demands release of detained naval sailors through International Tribunal for Law of Sea - Poroshenko

KYIV. April 16 (Interfax) - Ukraine has asked the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to impose temporary measures with respect to Russia to release Ukrainian naval sailors and naval ships, which were detained in the Kerch Strait in November 2018, President Petro Poroshenko said.

"Today, on my orders the Foreign Ministry also requests that the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea undertake mandatory measures with respect to the Russian side to have Ukrainian naval sailors released," he wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

"Already in a few weeks, the Tribunal will compel Russia to release Ukrainian naval sailors and Ukrainian naval ships, while Moscow's actions will be found illegal," the head of state said.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, in turn, said that "the today's request for applying temporary measures seeks to protect [us] from a serious and irreparable damage, which will be inflicted by further detention of Ukrainian naval ships and the persecution of their servicemen in court."

Naval ships and their personnel enjoy absolute immunity in line with UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Foreign Ministry said.

This kind of immunity implies that foreign countries cannot arrest, detain and sue them, the Foreign Ministry.

On April 1, 2019, Ukraine notified the Russian side of launching mandatory arbitration court proceedings in line with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Foreign Ministry said.

Thus, this is the Foreign Ministry's third official request as part of the lawsuits filed by the state of Ukraine against the Russian Federation.

On November 25, 2018, Russian border guards used weapons to stop three Ukrainian naval vessels, the Yany Kapu tug and the Berdyansk and the Nikopol armored gunboats, which were traveling from Odesa to Mariupol in the Kerch Strait. The vessels were escorted to Kerch.

The Federal Security Service (FSB) said the ships had entered Russia's territorial waters on orders from Kyiv and described the incident as an act of provocation coordinated by two Ukrainian Security Service officers. Russia also said that Kyiv had not duly notified it that naval vessels were planning to pass through the Kerch Strait.

Kyiv called the border guards' actions unlawful and accused Moscow of violating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and a treaty between Ukraine and Russia on cooperation in using the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.

Courts in Simferopol and Kerch remanded the 22 sailors and two Ukrainian Security Service officials in custody. In late November they were transferred to Moscow.

The Ukrainians are charged with "conspiracy by a group of persons or an organized group to illegally cross the border using violence or the threat to use violence." If found guilty, they could face up to six years in prison.

Kyiv calls the detained sailors prisoners of war. The Russian authorities say they cannot be regarded as POWs, as they are charged with a crime and Russia and Ukraine are not in a state of war or military conflict.

The arrestees include the captain of the Yany Kapu tug Oleh Melnychuk, commander of the gunboat Nikopol Bohdan Nebylytsa, commander of the gunboat Berdiansk Roman Mokriak, commander of the logistics vessel battalion of the Ukrainian Southern Naval Base Volodymyr Lysovoi, Ukrainian Security Service officers Andriy Drach and Vasyl Soroka, crewmembers Denis Hrytsenko, Yuriy Beziazychny, Viacheslav Zynchenko, Yevhen Semydotskyi, Andriy Shevchenko, Andriy Oprysko, Serhiy Tsybizov, Yuriy Budzylo, Volodymyr Tereshchenko, Vyktor Bespalchenko, Volodymyr Varymez, Mykhailo Vlasiuk, Bohdan Holovash, Serhiy Chulib, Vladyslav Kostyshyn, Serhiy Popov, Andriy Artemenko and Andriy Eider.