Tugboat turmoil: Svitzer tugs seized in Russia amid divestment struggles

Four tugs owned by Maersk affiliate Svitzer have been seized in Russia. The seizure comes as Maersk attempts to divest its towage activities and exit the Russian market entirely following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a wave of sanctions against the country that followed.

Illustration; Image credit Svitzer

The divestment process for the towage activities, which involved the four tugs operating under a long-term contract for the Sakhalin II project in Sakhalin, Eastern Russia, has faced significant hurdles, primarily due to regulatory difficulties. Despite efforts to find a viable solution, a satisfactory outcome has not been achieved thus far.

“In March 2022, A.P. Moller – Maersk decided to exit Russia completely. The last Maersk container vessel called a Russian port in May 2022, our shares in Global Ports were sold in August 2022 and our landside logistics assets were divested in February 2023,” a Svitzer spokesperson said in a statement to Offshore Energy.

“Concurrently, we have had an ongoing divestment process of our towage activities (4 tugs owned by Maersk affiliate Svitzer operating on a long-term contract in Sakhalin, Eastern Russia for the Sakhalin II project). For more than a year, we have explored different solutions to divest the operation but have so far – mainly due to regulatory difficulties – not been successful in finding a viable solution.”

Svitzer said that as a result, Maersk took steps to terminate the agreement, whereby a Svitzer entity in the European Union had bare-boat chartered the tugboats to the Russian entity of Svitzer.

“This termination means that Svitzer’s Russian entity will no longer be able to provide services. The decision was communicated to the customer and local authorities on April 17th,” the company said in a statement.

However, despite the suspension of services, the local port authority ordered Svitzer’s local crews and tugboats to continue operations. Adding to the complexity, a local court issued an order preventing the tugboats from leaving Russia.

Consequently, all Svitzer employees in Russia have resigned, and Svitzer is no longer involved in the operation of the seized tugs.

“Regardless of our suspension of the services, the local port authority directly ordered our local crews and tugboats to continue to operate, and on 25 April we were informed a local court has ordered the tugboats cannot leave Russia and also transferred custody of the tugboats to a 3rd party,” Svitzer added.

“We believe the situation regarding the tugs is untenable and efforts to resolve the matter are ongoing.”