A Dominica-flagged cargo ship with a connection to Fairhaven was destroyed Tuesday in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol after it was struck by Russian missiles, according to the vessel’s flag registry.
The M/V Azburg, a 9,085-ton cargo vessel, was struck by two missile shells while at berth in the port of Mariupol. A 12-person civilian crew from Ukraine was on board the vessel at the time of the attack, according to the registry. One crew member was wounded and transported to a nearby hospital.
The vessel is flagged out of the small Caribbean nation of Dominica, the government of which outsources their technical registration to a Fairhaven-based company, called the Commonwealth of Dominica Maritime Administration.
Eric Dawicki, a local resident and president of the company, is concerned about both the vessel’s crew and the implications of what this attack might mean for the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“The indiscriminate shelling of a merchant vessel with a civilian crew with no place to seek refuge is the lowest of lows,” Dawicki told The Light Wednesday. “This is an elaborate problem that the world and the U.N. will have to tackle.”
Dawicki’s Fairhaven company is contracted by the government of Dominica to register ships to fly the Dominica flag, he said.
The cargo vessel arrived in Mariupol on Feb. 22, a few days before the initial Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to vessel tracking database AIS.
The Ukrainian port city, just a few miles from the Russian border, was an early target of Russia’s military occupation. Russian ships quickly blockaded the Sea of Azov, a northern inlet of the Black Sea, sealing the vessel and its crew into the occupied territory.
“It was there just as the conflict started. It was sitting safely at the dock. For some reason the Russians thought it was important to shell it and sink it,” Dawicki said. “If I knew the reason, it would help me sleep at night. We have zero understanding as to why the Russians are doing any of what they are doing.”
The vessel had traveled to Mariupol from Burgas, Bulgaria, where it made its last port call on Feb. 15, according to AIS.
Dawicki speculated that the vessel was transporting coal or iron ore, due to the design of the vessel, though he said he was not certain. He said the vessel was not transporting weapons, as the Fairhaven-based company has regulatory and compliance oversight on products shipped on Dominica-flagged vessels.
The vessel is owned by Malta-based MSCo Global Ltd. and crewed by a Ukrainian management company called Pe Dneptrans, according to Kyle Racine, manager of the Fairhaven registry. Neither foreign companies could be reached for comment.
Dawicki, who also heads the Northeast Maritime Institute, a private maritime educational company also based in Fairhaven, said he began managing Dominica’s international ship registry in 1999 at the request of the US Coast Guard and the Department of State.
“Many smaller, developing nations outsource the technical management of their maritime administrations,” he said. The island nation of Dominica has a population of about 72,000 and is about 290 square miles. It is a few hundred miles southeast of Puerto Rico.
Members of Dominica’s Ministry of National Security would not comment on the attack, nor the extent to which the Dawicki’s Fairhaven-based company has oversight over vessels flagged in their country.
The Light was unable to independently verify the details of the sinking. A picture of the vessel, provided by the registry, shows smoke rising from the vessel into a dark night sky.
Dominica-flagged ships have been criticized by various UN countries in recent years for alleged violations of trade sanctions with both North Korea and Iran, according to Caribbean news outlets. In 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued a finding of “non-egregious” violation to the Fairhaven company, accusing it of violating the Iranian Transactions and Sanctions Regulations.
Two mariners have been killed and at least five other merchant vessels have been hit by projectiles off Ukraine’s Coast since February, according to a Reuters report on the sinking of the Azburg. As of March 30, there were 86 merchant vessels still stuck in Ukraine, though Dawicki said this was the only Dominica-flagged vessel in the area.
“This Administration deplores these attacks on a Commonwealth of Dominica flagged vessel,” Dawicki said. “There is nothing good that comes out of war.”