Cargo ship sinks off coast of Ukrainian port Odessa ‘after explosion’

Two crew members in life raft at sea while four others are unaccounted for

Smoke rises from ammunition depot as people sit in traffic jams to leave Odesa, Ukraine

A cargo ship has sunk in the Black Sea off the Ukrainian port of Odessa after an explosion, the vessel’s manager has said.

The Estonian-owned cargo ship Helt sunk on Thursday as Russian forces continued their invasion of Ukraine, which has seen increasing military activity in the Black Sea.

Two crew members were in a life raft at sea while four others were unaccounted for, Igor Ilves, managing director of Tallinn-based Vista Shipping Agency said. The company is not aware of the life raft’s whereabouts.

“The vessel has finally sunk,” Mr Ilves said. “Two of the crew are in a raft on the water and four others are missing. I don’€™t know where they are at the moment.” He said the vessel might have struck a mine.

The Maritime Bulletin website reported on Wednesday that Helt had been captured by the Russian navy and was being used as a shield, though this has not been verified.

The sunken Panama-flagged ship was said to be 16 nautical miles from the port of Odessa.

Map provided by MarineTraffic.com showing the location of the Helt

Ukraine’s military warned on Thursday that a group of Russian amphibious landing vessels was heading toward Odessa.

Earlier, the owner of a Bangladeshi cargo ship said a missile or bomb had hit it in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Olvia, killing one of its crew members.

“The ship came under attack and one engineer was killed,” Pijush Dutta, executive director of Bangladesh Shipping Corporation, told Reuters. “It was not clear whether it was a bomb or missile or which side launched the attack. The other 28 crewmen are unharmed,” he said.

The Bangladesh-flagged Banglar Samriddhi had been stuck in the port of Olvia since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February, and was hit by a missile on Wednesday evening, a Bangladeshi foreign ministry official said.

In the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka, the Russian Embassy said in an English-language statement on its Facebook page that the circumstances of the incident were “€œbeing established”€.

“We express deep condolences to the near and dear ones of the deceased. The Russian side bends every effort to ensure safe departure of the Bangladeshi ship from the port,” it said.

Ukrainian military and coast guard ships stand in the harbour of the city of Odessa in January

Videos on social media showed crew members asking for help after the ship was hit. In one video, the vessel’s second engineer said the ship had been hit by a rocket with one crewmate already dead.

“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,” they said. In another video, another crew member called Asiful Islam Asif said: “Please rescue us.”

Earlier, Russian forces seized the strategic Ukrainian seaport of Kherson and besieged another as part of efforts to cut the country off from its coastline.

This map shows the areas held by Russian forces in Ukraine

The Russian military said it had control of Kherson, and local Ukrainian officials confirmed that forces have taken over local government headquarters in the Black Sea port of 280,000, making it the first major city to fall since the invasion began a week ago. 

From Kherson, Russian troops appeared to roll toward Mykolaiv, another major Black Sea port and shipbuilding center to the west along the coast.

The regional governor, Vitaliy Kim, said that big convoys of Russian troops are advancing on the city but said that they will likely need to regroup before trying to take it over. 

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

Additional reporting by agencies

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