Ukrainian ships that were seized last month carried more ammunition than usual, had guns in combat ready-mode and planned to 'stealthily' pass the Kerch Strait in violation of rules, Russian border and security officials said.
The three vessels were detained on November 25 after they spent hours in Russian territorial waters, ignoring requests of officials to stop. They were attempting to pass through the Kerch Strait from a Ukrainian port in the Black sea to the one in the Azov Sea, but didn't file the request that is necessary when navigating through a narrow and busy waterway, according to Russian authorities. Kiev insisted the ships had proper authorization.
Two of the vessels, gunboats 'Berdyansk' and 'Nikopol', were mounted with “weapons and ammunition exceeding the standard loadout,” Deputy Head of the Russian Coast Guard, Aleksey Volsky told reporters on Saturday.
Their “artillery systems were loaded and placed into combat-ready mode” when they met the Russian vessels, according to Mikhail Shishov, who leads the Investigative Directorate at the Federal Security Service (FSB).
Citing a document obtained on board one of the Ukrainian gunboats, Shishov said that the ships were given instructions to “concentrate the efforts on a stealth passage” of the strait that separates mainland Russia and Crimea.
Three Ukrainian sailors were wounded during the standoff. The FSB said on Saturday that all of their injuries were sustained from the pieces which broke off their own boat as it was fired upon by the Russians. “There were no direct bullet wounds,” the official pointed out.
Shishov also noted that a resident of Ukraine's breakaway Donetsk People's Republic told the FSB that he “identified” one of the detained crewmen. The person alleged that the detainee had “tortured” him during his own detention at some point, leaving “very serious injuries.” Shishov didn't reveal any more details of the allegation, only saying that the detainee in question belongs to Kiev's chief spy agency, the SBU.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko blasted the seizure of Ukrainian vessels as “an act of aggression” and violation of international law. Ukrainian officials have been referring to the arrested 24 sailors as POWs – something Moscow says goes against the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
“The Ukrainian side has attempted to present its officers as prisoners of war. But those detained Ukrainian sailors are charged with criminal offences,” Shishov stated. “According to the Convention … they cannot be prisoners of war, since Russia and Ukraine are not in a state of an armed conflict or war.”
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