Ship Attempted to Break Through Russian Naval Blockade of Mariupol to Rescue Azov Commanders: MoD
16:18 GMT 09.04.2022 (Updated: 17:21 GMT 09.04.2022)
Russian forces and Donetsk People's Militia units encircled the Azov Sea coast city of Mariupol in early March, trapping thousands of Ukrainian troops, neo-Nazi Azov Regiment fighters and foreign mercenaries in the strategic port hub. In recent days, Ukrainian forces have made several attempts to evacuate commanders from the city's ruins.
The Apache, a dry cargo ship sailing under the Maltese flag, abruptly changed course while en route through the Azov Sea and attempted to break through the naval blockade of Mariupol enforced by ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and border patrol, Russian Ministry of Defence spokesman Igor Konashenkov has announced.
"On the evening of 8 April, the regime in Kiev made a new unsuccessful attempt to evacuate the neo-Nazi fighters' leaders [trapped in Mariupol] by sea. In the evening darkness the Ukrainian dry cargo vessel Apache, assigned to the Maltese port of Valletta and flying the Maltese flag, followed a caravan of ships from Taganrog Bay to the Kerch Strait," Konashenkov said in a briefing Saturday.
"At 10:38 pm, 30 km southeast of Mariupol, the vessel abruptly changed course and attempted to break through to the Mariupol port, blocked from the sea by forces of the [Russian] Black Sea Fleet," the officer said.
The vessel ignored demands by Russian patrol vessels to communicate via an international channel, and warning fire failing to alter its course, according to Konashenkov. Instead, the ship's radio transmitted the message "This is 'Maniac', I am coming for you," and signal fires were observed from Ukrainian-controlled areas of the shore.
In order to block the further movement of the intruding vessel, a ship of the Black Sea Fleet and Russian border patrol boats opened fire on the Apache. A blaze broke out aboard the vessel after a direct hit to the stern. The ship began to drift, and its crew initiated communications with Russian vessels asking them to hold fire and promising to carry out their orders.
The Apache's crew was not injured, and managed to extinguish the fire independently. After inspection, the ship was escorted to the port of Yeysk in Russia's Krasnodar region.
The suspected rescue attempt is the latest in a series of failed efforts to evacuate commanders from Mariupol as Russian and Donetsk People's Republic forces continue to chip away at the areas of the city controlled by Ukraine. On Tuesday, two Ukrainian Mi-8 helicopters were shot down with man-portable anti-aircraft systems while trying to break through the lines.
On Friday, the Russian MoD reported that its analysis of intercepted radio traffic revealed that at least six languages besides Russian and Ukrainian were being used by forces operating in Mariupol, signalling the presence of large numbers of foreign mercenaries.
The increasingly brazen attempts to rescue forces out of the besieged city, where some of the most brutal house-to-house fighting of the conflict in Ukraine has taken place to date, has led to speculation
in Russian media about just what kind of forces are operating there, and why their evacuation from the city's ruins is such an important priority.