World

In European ports, the issue of blocking Russian ships progresses – 04/05/2022 at 16:00

The Baltic Performer, chartered by a Swedish subsidiary of the Russian shipowner Baltic Shipping, is one of the first cargo ships to be targeted by the boycott of one of the two major Swedish dock workers' unions, in the port of Helsingborg on April 4, 2022 (AFP / Camille BAS-WOHLERT)

The Baltic Performer, chartered by a Swedish subsidiary of the Russian shipowner Baltic Shipping, is one of the first cargo ships to be targeted by the boycott of one of the two major Swedish dock workers’ unions, in the port of Helsingborg on April 4, 2022 (AFP / Camille BAS-WOHLERT)

After several days of uncertainty, the Baltic Performer, a blue freighter loaded with bananas from Ecuador, is finally entering the port of Helsingborg, under the heavy skies of this week’s start in southern Sweden.

In solidarity with Ukraine, Hamnarbetarförbundet, one of Sweden’s two largest dockworkers’ unions, took the rare step in late March of refusing to touch ships linked to Russia.

The 150-metre bulk carrier, operated under the flag of the Bahamas by a Swedish subsidiary of the Russian shipowner Baltic Shipping, based in St. Petersburg, is one of the first to be the target of this boycott.

“We are blocking all goods related to Russia and the regime,” Rolf Lyktoft, head of the union’s local branch, told AFP.

A prelude to a generalization? The European Commission on Tuesday proposed to 27 member states to close European ports to boats operated by Russians, as part of a new sanctions package discussed by the EU.

Ukraine and its President Zelensky have repeatedly called on Europe to block all ships connected to Russia.

“We clearly need to increase our pressure on Moscow further,” Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said before a meeting on Wednesday in Brussels.

For the time being, neither the Union nor any of its 27 Member States at national level has made this choice, unlike the United Kingdom at the beginning of March.

– 270 ships per month –

According to analysts, the hesitation is mainly related to the major consequences that the blockade could have on the supply of Russian oil, which the EU has largely kept out of its sanctions for the time being.

In Helsingborg, Rolf Lyktoft wants to snowball the movement of his 1400 comrades, which remains symbolic in terms of goods.

“We hope that the IDC (International Portworkers’ Council) decides to step it up, that we choose not to touch Russian goods worldwide,” he said.

The port management is unobtrusive, but in the end managed to unload the Baltic Performer at the end of the day and out of sight on Monday.

The ship that was due to return on Saturday could not be accommodated due to a lack of workers who agreed to unload, forcing it to postpone its arrival.

The blockade chosen by the Swedish union includes ships flying the Russian flag, ships owned by a Russian company flying another flag, or even ships bound for or coming from Russia.

In extremis, the management could count on the poor of the “Transportarbetare”, the other dockworkers’ union.

“We don’t think they should have brought the boat back to port, but the port authorities did,” its president Tommy Wreeth told AFP.

Last week his organization also issued a blockade – but only from 1 May to give the shipowners time.

According to the data, 270 Russian-flagged or Russia-related ships anchored in European ports last month, including four in Sweden.

– Short-term failures –

The United Kingdom banned Russian-linked ships from entering ports in early March, although in practice Russian cargo – including oil – can still enter on other ships.

Elsewhere in Europe, initiatives have been limited, such as in the large French port of Le Havre, where CGT doctors refused to suspend the unloading of Russian ships.

“It can only be a decision taken at European level,” justifies Johan Fortier, trade union representative in the second French port, questioned before the announcement of a possible decision by the EU.

“Otherwise the port of Le Havre or the French ports will shoot themselves in the foot, with traffic deporting to ports turning a blind eye.”

On March 3, the large port of Hamburg stopped all transhipment to and from Russia as a precaution.

But three weeks later, operations were “resumed to a limited extent”, a spokesman explained, on the grounds that “not all goods are on the EU sanctions list”.

New sanctions require unanimity on Wednesday in Brussels at the meeting of ambassadors to the EU.

If the 27 choose to imitate London and Russia decides to retaliate against EU ships, “it could significantly disrupt Russian exports in the short term,” notes Niels Rasmussen, chief analyst at the shipowners’ association Bimco.

“In the medium term, however, it is likely that non-Russian and non-European ships will position themselves on the Russia-Europe link,” while the tankers under sanctions “would move to other markets,” he told AFP.