Officials in Moscow have urged Kiev to release detained sailors of the Russian-flagged tanker ‘Nika Spirit”. If Russian nationals “were taken hostage” by Ukraine, “it would mount to a grave violation of international law.

It is still unclear how many sailors were on board the ship. Anatoly Matios, head of the Ukrainian military prosecutor’s office, uploaded photos showing the passports of seven Russian seamen.

Several hours later the Russian embassy in Ukraine announced that “the crew is heading home, while the vessel remains in Izmail,” a port city in southwestern Ukraine. The ship’s owner also confirmed that the sailors had been freed.

Ukrainian law enforcement officers questioned the crew before letting them go.

Senior Russian lawmakers labeled the incident “an act of piracy” and accused the outgoing Kiev government of staging “a provocation”.

Officials within Russia’s shipping industry suggested the crew was larger than seven, putting the number at between 11 and 16.

The ‘Nika Spirit’ was detained by the SBU earlier in the day as she sailed to Izmail for refurbishment. Kiev maintains the ship was blocking the passage of Ukrainian warships during a mid-sea encounter in the Kerch Strait last November.

Konstantin Zatulin, a high-ranking member of the State Duma’s committee in charge of post-Soviet states, told the media the detention will damage already-strained relations between Moscow and Kiev.

By doing what it has done, Ukraine will be “nowhere close” to achieving the release of 24 sailors currently on trial in Russia for an alleged violation of maritime borders during last year’s Kerch Strait incident.

RT. com / ABC Flash Point WW III News 2019.

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