On 11 October, the Permanent Court of Arbitration of the United Nations International Court of Justice will start hearing the Ukraine v. Russian case on the illegal seizure of three Ukrainian ships “Nikopol,” “Berdyansk,” and “Yany-Kapu” and 24 Ukrainian sailors, service members of the Ukrainian Navy, in the Kerch Strait.

“The case is very important for Ukraine. We prove the illegality of Russia‘s behaviour towards our state, the illegality of the seizure and detention of Ukrainian warships, and the illegal trial against our sailors who spent nine months in a Russian prison,” Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba posted on his Twitter page.

According to the minister, this case is decisive for the world as Ukraine proves with facts and legal positions that absolute immunity of warships is a fundamental principle and duty under the international maritime law and must be observed by all countries, while its violations are punishable.

At the same time, Kuleba is sure that the court will bring Russia to justice, no matter how much time it takes.

According to the Court’s press service, the hearing will take place in a hybrid format, with some of the members joining in person and others by video conference.

Russia will deliver its arguments on 11 and 14 October, Ukraine on 12 and 15 October. A further session may be held on 16 October.

The Arbitral Tribunal membership consists of judges from Iceland, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and is chaired by Professor Donald McRae as President.

As a reminder, on 25 November 2018, the Russian coast guard ships fired on and seized three vessels of the Ukrainian Navy: two small armoured artillery boats, “Berdyansk” and “Nikopol,” and a tugboat “Yany Kapu” on their way from the Black Sea port of Odesa to the port of Mariupol in the Sea of Azov. Twenty-four Ukrainian sailors were arrested and then transported from the occupied Crimea to a pre-trial detention centre in Moscow.

On 25 May 2019, at the request of Ukraine, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ordered Russia to return the ships and all crew members to Ukraine immediately.

On 7 September 2019, the sailors were exchanged and returned to Ukraine. Moscow returned the seized ships to Kyiv two months later.

Bohdan Marusyak

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