By Jonathan Sol
LONDON (Reuters) – A foreign-flagged merchant ship was hit by a Russian navy missile in the besieged southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol and one of its crew members needed medical attention, a Ukrainian official said on Tuesday.
Ukraine said it was preparing to call up about 60,000 Russian reserve soldiers to bolster Moscow’s offensive in the east, where Russia’s main targets included Mariupol and Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city.
The engine room of the Dominica-flagged cargo ship was hit by a missile late Monday, Viktor Vishnov, deputy head of the Ukrainian Maritime Administration, said.
“The ship was burnt down and all 12 crew members were evacuated to another ship. One of the crew members needed medical assistance, which was given to him and he was evacuated,” Vishnov told Reuters.
He did not know if the ship was carrying any cargo.
Separately, British security company Embry Intelligence said the ship arrived in Mariupol on February 23 and was unable to leave Ukrainian waters due to the port’s closure.
The ship’s owner, based in Malta, could not be reached for comment.
Russian officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Russian military gained control of the waterways around Ukraine when it invaded on February 24 in what Moscow calls a “special military operation” to disarm and “disarm” the country.
The position of the Kremlin is rejected by Kyiv and the West, which considers it a pretext for an unjustified invasion.
Two sailors have been killed and five other merchant ships wounded by shells – one of which has sunk – off the Ukrainian coast since the conflict began, shipping officials said.
The United Nations shipping agency, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), said there were 86 merchant ships still stranded in Ukrainian ports and waters as of March 30, and about 1,000 seafarers had not been able to set sail.
Navy officials said supplies are running out on the ships, which also face multiple dangers including floating missiles and mines.
“In addition to the dangers from the bombing, many of the ships involved now lack food, fuel, fresh water and other vital supplies,” the IMO said.
“The position of seafarers from many countries is becoming increasingly unacceptable as a result, posing serious risks to their health and well-being.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Tuesday that Ukraine’s efforts to expel Russian forces from Mariupol were facing difficulties and that the military situation was “extremely difficult”.
(Reporting by Jonathan Saul; Editing by Nick McPhee)