LONDON, United Kingdom - Just under 500 seafarers remain stuck onboard 109 ships at Ukrainian ports - skeleton crews who were left on board to enable their crew mates to be evacuated amid the conflict with Russia, shipping officials said on Friday.
Those remaining should be allowed safe passage out too, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) association said.
Two seafarers have been killed and six merchant vessels have been hit by projectiles - which sank two of them - around Ukraine's coast since the start of Russia's invasion on Feb. 24.
Ships and crews also face multiple perils such as floating mines.
Around 1,500 merchant sailors have been safely evacuated from stranded vessels via humanitarian corridors on land and at sea over the past six weeks, according to data gathered by the ICS in conjunction with UN shipping agency the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
Referring to skeleton crews left behind, Natalie Shaw of the ICS said "the escape route out of ‘the apocalypse’ must be open to these seafarers as well".
Separately, the IMO said its maritime safety committee had adopted a resolution this week “to take necessary immediate actions” in setting up a safe maritime corridor in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov to enable the stranded ships to sail “without threat of attack”.
The biggest cluster of vessels that have been unable to sail - some 25 ships - are stranded in the port city of Mykolaiv.
Five ships are stuck at the port of Mariupol, which has seen some of the worst destruction in the war, which Russia calls a "special operation" to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West say the fascist allegation is baseless and that the war is an unprovoked act of aggression.
The ICS data pinpointed the location of 99 vessels, with the remaining 10 unaccounted for as their tracking transponders were switched off.
Most of the 109 stranded vessels were either bulk carriers or general cargo vessels and other ships include oil tankers, the ICS data showed.
The seafarers who were evacuated and those still stuck come from 27 countries, with the largest number from the Philippines and India. Other nations with crew members holed up included Russia, China, Denmark, Greece and Turkey. -- Reuters