Two cargo ships hit by explosives off Ukraine following reports of Russia using vessels as a 'human shield'

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Two cargo ships hit by explosives off Ukraine following reports of Russia using vessels as a 'human shield'
The Russian navy's missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov sails off for an exercise in the Arctic on January 26, 2022.Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP
  • Two cargo ships were hit by explosions near Ukraine.
  • The Ukrainian Navy has accused the Russian Navy of using civilian vessels as a "human shield."
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Two cargo ships were hit by explosives off the coast of Ukraine on Thursday.

The Ukrainian Navy has accused the Russian Black Sea Fleet of using civilian vessels — including the Estonian-owned ship, the MV Helt, — as a "human shield" to obscure the movements of the Russian navy, according to a report from The New York Times. The MV Helt sank on Thursday following an explosion.

The Ukrainian Navy said that the Russians had threatened to fire on the MV Helt if it did not enter the war zone and compared the Russian's actions to "21st-century piracy," The Times and The Jerusalem Post reported.

Maritime Bulletin reported that the tactic could help Russian ships evade radar detection. As of Thursday morning, the ship's Automatic Identification System (AIS) had not been damaged and MarineTraffic recorded the ship just over a dozen nautical miles off the port of Odessa.

Igor Ilves, the managing director of the Vista Shipping Agency, told Reuters that two crew members were in a life raft at sea and four more had yet to be accounted for. He added that the vessel may have struck a mine. Vista Shipping Agency did not respond to a request for comment from Insider.

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"It's a big problem — nobody can help them," Ilves told Reuters. "The Ukrainians cannot go to sea because it is under Russian control."

The ship was not the first civilian vessel to be impacted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The MV Helt sank just hours after a Bangladeshi vessel, the Banglar Samriddhi, was hit by a missile or bomb at a port in Olvia, according to Bloomberg. The publication reported that the unidentified missile killed an engineer on board.

The ship had been stranded at the port with 29 crew members following the Russian invasion, Bloomberg reported. Pijush Dutta, executive director of Bangladesh Shipping Corp, told the news outlet that "it was not clear which side fired the missile."

Since, videos have appeared on social media, showing Banglar Samriddhi crew members asking for help.

"We have no power supply. Emergency generator power supply is running. We are on the verge of death. We have not been rescued yet. Please save us," a crewmember said, according to Reuter's retelling of a video.

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Ukraine's largest port has been closed since Russia launched its attack on Thursday. The NATO Shipping Center has warned that there is "a high risk of collateral damage on civilian shipping in the northwestern part of the Black Sea," including cyberattacks and mines.

Russia's invasion has heavily impacted cargo ships that traverse the Black Sea — a key route for oil and bulk food exports. Since Thursday, several ships have been fired upon or detained. Many shipping companies have rerouted their vessels as a result.

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