Joseph Schulte hugs coasts of Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria as it heads for Istanbul

Container ship Joseph Schulte (IMO 9605243) was set to reach Istanbul on Thursday evening, its operator Bernhard Schulte Management said yesterday morning, but which time it had passed the most dangerous segment of its journey, when it was within Ukrainian waters. By yesterday morning it had entered Romanian waters, passed Constanta, and was close to Bulgaria.

Reuters reported that other ships in Ukraine were now preparing voyage plans to exit the Ukrainian blockade. While bulk carriers were able to get out as part of the now-expired Black Sea grain Corridor, container ships had no such joy. More than 60 vessels remained stuck in Ukrainian ports such as Odesa and Mariupol.

Interestingly, a number of vessels were travelling north, heading for Ukrainian ports. One explanation touted was that Ukraine felt confident that Russia’s grip on the western part of the Black Sea had either collapsed, or had been eased deliberately.

The Joseph Schulte is a 10-year-old, 9,400 teu boxship that sails under a Hong Kong flag. It is owned by a Chinese bank and the Schulte Group and managed by Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM). The Chinese connection could be significant, in that Russia would not be keen to provoke China, which has maintained a studied neutrality when it comes to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Referring to the journey of the container ship, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said that “Ukraine has just made an important step toward restoring the freedom of navigation in the Black Sea.” The move, which came as something of a surprise, is certainly a propaganda coup for Ukraine, and if it can be repeated could bring about a fall in the war risk premiums that any vessels wishing to sail in Black Sea waters currently have to pay.

A number of ships, most of them bulk carriers rather than container ships, have signalled an intention to travel from Ukrainian ports to Turkiye over the next few weeks.

The “humanitarian corridor” announced last week by Ukraine, although coordinated with the IMO, was not given much chance of success without Russian cooperation, mainly because vessel owners were thought unlikely to be willing to take the risk with their vessels. The new corridor was a blatant challenge to Russia’s naval blockade, and Russia responded that any vessel in the area traversing the Black Sea would be seen as a potential military target. Immediately after Russia withdrew from the grain deal last month it said that all vessels calling at Ukrainian ports would be suspected of carrying weapon supplies.

Western insurers therefore were unsurprisingly not keen to offer cover for vessels travelling in the face of a potential Russian attack.

Russia’s navy has conducted strikes on Ukrainian grain facilities and ports, including the Danube ports of Izmail and Reni, after Ukraine said that these two ports would be responsible for a greater proportion of its grain exports subsequent to the end of the grain corridor agreement and the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports.

However, the trips from Turkiye to Ukraine are not to Odesa, Chornomorsk, Yuzhne or Mariupol; they are to the ports in the Danube. But on the other hand the vessels sailing from Turkiye to the Ukraine Danube ports seem willing to do so directly to those ports, rather than via inland channels from Constanta, Romania.

2013-built, Hong Kong-flagged, 94,402 gt Joseph Schulte is owned by Dover Park Shipping Co Pte Ltd care of Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (Cyprus) Ltd of Limassol, Cyprus. It is entered with Gard for P&I (Dover Park Shipping Co) and also for Loss of Hire / Hull (claims leader on behalf of Bernhard Schulte GmbH & Co KG.