Ukraine has lodged a request with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), seeking the release of 24 Ukrainian sailors captured by the Russian Federation in the Kerch Strait in November 2018.
"Today, Ukraine filed a request in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), seeking provisional relief against the Russian Federation. The request seeks the release of the three Ukrainian naval vessels and twenty-four servicemen unlawfully seized by the Russian Federation in the Black Sea on November 25, 2018," Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.
Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), naval vessels and the personnel on board have complete immunity, meaning that foreign nations may not seize them, detain them, or subject them to legal proceedings.
"Russia's seizure of Ukraine's vessels in the Black Sea, continued detention of the vessels and the servicemen on board, and attempted criminal prosecution of those servicemen blatantly violates UNCLOS," the ministry said.
On April 1, 2019, following months of efforts to secure the release of its naval vessels and servicemen and Russia's continued, unjustified refusal to do so, Ukraine notified Russia that it was commencing mandatory arbitration under UNCLOS. Ukraine also has requested that ITLOS order immediate provisional relief to Ukraine by releasing its naval ships and 24 servicemen, in light of the urgency of the situation.
"Since their capture on November 25, 2018, Russia has continued to detain Ukraine's naval vessels and its servicemen. The servicemen, who are being held in Russian prisons pending trial for alleged criminal violations of Russia's border control laws, have been subjected to interrogation and involuntary psychological evaluations. If ultimately convicted, they may be sentenced to up to six years in Russian labor camps," it said.
"Every additional day of detention harms the Ukrainian servicemen and constitutes a further affront to Ukraine's legal rights under UNCLOS and customary international law. Today's request for provisional relief seeks to protect against the serious and irreparable harm that will be caused by the continued detention of Ukraine's naval vessels and the continued detention and prosecution of its servicemen," the ministry said.
The next step in the proceedings will be a hearing before ITLOS on Ukraine's request, it said.
"Ukraine expects such a hearing to be scheduled within the next several weeks, and that a decision will issue soon thereafter," the ministry added.
Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal said in a separate comment: "As part of two weeks' hearings and two weeks after the hearings, a decision will be taken in accordance with practice."
According to her, Ukraine is counting on a decision to be taken by the International Tribunal on the immediate release and return of the Ukrainian sailors and ships.
The Ukrainian side offered Russia to hold consultations in The Hague next week on Tuesday, April 23, and is awaiting a response.
Also, the Foreign Ministry expects that the hearings on the suit at the International Tribunal will be scheduled for the end of April or the beginning of May 2019.