Experts warn that Black Sea mines pose a serious maritime threat | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW

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Since last weekend, the Turkish Navy has detected and defused several drifting naval or marine mines. He said one had been neutralized near the crucial Bosphorus channel, which connects the Black Sea to the Sea of ​​Marmara, and ultimately the Mediterranean. The strait was briefly closed to traffic. The Romanian military also said it destroyed a sea mine detected by fishermen earlier this week.

The mines would be sea anchor mines that do not float on the surface of the water but rather just below. A steel cable connects the floating mine to an anchor, which holds the device underwater to conceal it. The explosive detonates when it comes into contact with the hull of a ship.

Russian-Ukrainian blame game

Early last week, Russia’s Defense Ministry and its state security agency, the FSB, warned of Ukrainian mines floating off Odessa, which were believed to have drifted after a storm. Initial reports spoke of several hundred mines. Later, the Russian Defense Ministry said the anchors of about 10 out of 370 mines had broken.

Ukraine dismissed the allegations, calling them “misinformation”. He said the mines came from Ukrainian stockpiles and were used in Sevastopol off the coast of Crimea, which Russia has occupied since 2014. The Ukrainian government has accused Russia of deliberately leaving the mines floating in the Black Sea to harm Ukraine’s international reputation.

Old Soviet models

“Both versions are plausible,” said Johannes Peters, a maritime strategy expert at the University of Kiel. He said from the released images it was clear that the mines in question were older designs that could be identified as Ukrainian but likely dated back to the Soviet era. The Turkish authorities have also hinted at this. What is certain is that “since the annexation of Crimea, the Russian Navy also has access to these mines”, he said.

There is no international agreement banning sea mines, as there is for landmines. However, the Hague Convention on Underwater Mines, which is part of international humanitarian law, obliges states to follow certain rules. Among these is the law that mines should not be allowed to drift into international waters.

On the other hand, states are allowed to lay sea mines in their own waters to protect themselves from attack. According to the German Ministry of Defense manual on the law of armed conflict, “any form of laying of mines, […] is subject to the principles of effective monitoring, risk control and warning. all the mines that have been unleashed.

Bosphorus blocked

After the Turkish Navy defused the mine and closed the Bosphorus, authorities also banned night fishing activities until further notice. Connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, the strait is an essential trade route for all the states bordering the Black Sea. But it also creates a bottleneck for wheat exports from Russia and – generally – Ukraine. If blocked, it could drive up wheat prices even further.

Many shipping companies are already under pressure due to the war in Ukraine: the Association of German Shipowners (VDR) estimates that at least 60 cargo ships belonging to international merchant fleets are currently stuck in Ukrainian ports. Now the drifting mines are aggravating an already critical situation.

“We are very worried,” Gokhan Ozcan of the Turkish shipowners’ association KOSDER told the Turkish daily. Dunya. Ozcan says it has received several phone calls from partners, especially Mediterranean countries, who wanted to know if they could take the risk of sending their container ships via the Bosphorus.

On top of that, insurance companies are currently refusing to cover war damage. Shipping companies thus take a substantial financial risk if they decide to send ships to Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Russia or Georgia.

Barbed wire and hedgehogs off Odessa, Ukraine

States are allowed to lay sea mines off their coasts to protect themselves from attack

Naval mines: “big balls full of explosives”

The threat from sea mines may be less significant than initially thought last week, as only a small fraction of the mines laid actually drift. There is also some doubt as to the operation of the devices. “From the photos it looks like they are in poor repair and some of them don’t even seem to be activated,” said naval expert Johannes Peters.

However, Peters stressed that this “does not mean they are not dangerous”. On the contrary, their age and the salty waters in which they drift could cause them to explode even from a slight contact, even a simple air mattress. The danger should not be underestimated: “Mines are and remain big balls full of explosives.

This article has been translated from German.

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