The Russian tanker formerly named Neyma, which was detained by the Ukrainian security services in the port of Izmail, Ukraine. Picture: REUTERS
The Russian tanker formerly named Neyma, which was detained by the Ukrainian security services in the port of Izmail, Ukraine. Picture: REUTERS

Kiev  — Ukraine detained and searched a Russian tanker near the Black Sea port of Odessa on Thursday, revisiting a naval stand-off from 2018 that stoked tensions between the two former Soviet neighbours.

The Ukraine State Security Service, or SBU, said it was seeking a court order to hold the Neyma tanker as part of a criminal probe related to the 2018 clash. It seized documents and questioned the crew. The 10 crew members — all Russians — on the small oil-products carrier were later released, though the ship will remain, the Russian embassy in Kiev said, according to RIA Novosti. Ukrainian officials could not immediately be reached to comment on this.

Before the release, Russia’s foreign ministry said it was investigating the circumstances of the case to take “appropriate measures” in response. “If we’re talking about taking Russians as hostages, this will be considered a gross violation of international law and the consequences won’t be slow in coming.”

Russia seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and imprisoned their two dozen crew members in November, accusing them of violating its territorial waters near the Kerch Strait leading from the Black to the Azov Sea. The incident occurred off the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 after protesters in Kiev ousted the country’s Kremlin-backed leader.

Ukraine denied the naval violation and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has sought the return of the ships’ crew members as a priority since he came to power in May. Zelenskiy, whose party won an unexpected majority in elections at the weekend, recently appointed an ally as acting head of the SBU.

In May, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ordered Russia to hand over the ships and allow the sailors it detained to return to Ukraine. Russia refused to participate in the proceedings, arguing that the panel does not  have jurisdiction in cases involving military activities.

“Russia is trying to play for time and present fulfillment of the tribunal’s ruling as a humanitarian or good-will gesture,” said Oleksiy Melnyk, co-director of the foreign-policy and international-security programme at the Razumkov Centre in Kiev. “Of course, the detention of the tanker is a conflict situation, and conflict situations don’t promote consensus in this kind of talks.”

Bloomberg