Addressing the Menace of Russian Sea Mines in the Black Sea

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Rumours emerged in October 2023 that Russia intended to use naval mines to hinder civilian transportation in the Black Naval in a try to destabilise Ukrainian grain shipments. The situation sparked worries about potential disruptions to Black Sea commercial commerce and risks to marine traffic.

Currently, In the Black Sea, Russian-placed, hundreds of sea mines are starting to endanger people and other non-combatants. One of the issues is the growing quantity of sea mines in the Black Sea, which has a detrimental effect on neighbouring countries like Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey, as well as Ukraine. The Russian Federation may have engaged in illicit mining without authorised humanitarian motivations, such as military gain, that endangers ships that are innocently passing through. International law may hold it accountable for its wrongdoing.

Sea mines have put Romania’s security at risk on several occasions. For example, in 2023, a mine exploded close to the town of Costinesti’s shoreline. On September 8, 2022, a minesweeper from the Romanian Navy was damaged close to the port of Constantza. Five mines in the Black Sea have allegedly been neutralised by the Romanian navy, according to the Ukrainian Crisis Media Center.

Due to several kinds of sea mines close to its coast, Bulgaria is experiencing a situation similar to Romania’s. In January 2023, one was defused 200 meters from the Tyulenovo settlement; on July 2, another was defused 27 nautical miles from the Kamchia River.

Since 2022, fishermen in Turkey have become more afraid of sea mines, believing they will hit one and “disappear underwater in the blink of an eye.” The fact that there have been numerous sea mines in the vicinity of Rumelifeneri, a village in Istanbul’s northern region since the war on Ukraine is what causes the anxiety. The most recent incident using sea mines was reported on October 5, 2023, by a cargo ship flying the Turkish flag that struck a mine and suffered some minor damage while travelling.

On 10 Jan, Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria signed an arrangement on a joint plan to remove mines floating in the Black Sea as a result of the war in Ukraine, following months of talks between the NATO allies.

We harshly condemned the Russian action. In international straits, internal waters, or archipelagic waters that correspond with the seas of non-conflicting states, hostile parties involved in an armed conflict are not permitted to position sea mines. We expressed grave concern over sea mines being laid in Black Sea waters, which would endanger civilian ships. We urged restraint from further rhetoric or action that could worsen the dangerous situation.

“Laying mines in the waters of another state without any warning or notification is not only an unlawful act but also a breach of the principles of humanitarian law underlying the Hague Convention No. VIII of 1907,” the International Court of Justice stated further explaining this matter. In the current situation, the mine-laying state, Russia, is required to alert the neutral states to any threats to innocent ships unless the mines are controlled varieties that are specifically used to target military targets.

In the face of the growing expansion of minelaying systems and tactics, the international community must highlight enforcing existing regulations on naval mines. Altogether, this new status quo would support the rule of law, deter offences(such as false-flag mine deployments), increase attribution, defend against threats to peaceful navigation, and facilitate the humanitarian concerns articulated in 1907: freedom of the seas and peaceful navigation.

The increasing geopolitical tension in the Black Sea and Russia’s aggressive actions towards Ukraine pose a severe threat to maritime safety and security. Even though there isn’t a law against mining the sea, Russia is not allowed to purposefully obstruct the neutral states‘ right to freely navigate the Black Sea, protected by treaty law and customary law, except the hostile territories of Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey.

The current Black Sea challenges require immediate action from the US, EU and NATO. We urge that diverse and effective strategies towards maintaining regional stability should be highly prioritised between the US and the Black Sea NATO allies. This would mean that the Black Sea has now been considered one of the top priority regions of security risks.

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