Ukraine said on Wednesday that a Russian missile had struck a civilian ship while it was moored in a port in the Black Sea region of Odesa, killing a port pilot on board and injuring three crew members and a port worker.
The Ukrainian southern military command said in a statement that an anti-radar Russian missile hit the ship’s superstructure, which includes the command cabin. It said that the ship was traveling under the Liberian flag and that the three wounded crew members were citizens of the Philippines.
The claim could not be immediately verified. The Russian authorities did not immediately comment on the strike.
If confirmed, the attack would be the first time that Russian forces have hit a civilian vessel sailing near the Odesa region since Moscow pulled out of a U.N.-brokered deal in July that allowed Ukraine to export its grain through the Black Sea.
At the time, Russia warned that it would consider any ship approaching a Ukrainian port a potential threat. Although the Russian military boarded a commercial ship in August, it had so far largely avoided attacking vessels, possibly fearing that such action would draw widespread condemnation and risk escalating the war in the Black Sea, which borders several NATO countries.
It remains unclear whether Wednesday’s strike will affect commercial shipping in the Black Sea, which Kyiv has managed to partly revive through a new corridor to evade Moscow’s de facto blockade. But the episode comes amid an uptick in military activity and attacks in the Black Sea in recent months, with Ukrainian forces successfully damaging Russian warships and hitting Moscow’s naval headquarters in Crimea, the peninsula Russia illegally annexed in 2014.
The Odesa Regional Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that the attack took place at 4:45 p.m. local time. The strike killed the port pilot, 43, and debris injured the three crew members and port employee. The Ukrainian authorities published photos of the aftermath of Wednesday’s attack, showing what appeared to be the collapsed roof of the command cabin.
Data from MarineTraffic, which tracks the movement of ships, showed that a vessel flying the Liberian flag and traveling under the name KMAX RULER was at the maritime border between Romania and Ukraine on Wednesday morning. Civilian ships often turn off their radar when entering Ukrainian waters to avoid being targeted.
Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, Oleksandr Kubrakov, said in a statement that the vessel was supposed to transport iron ore to China.
The ship most likely went through the new shipping route that Kyiv devised after Moscow pulled out of the grain deal and that offers passage through a maze of maritime mines Ukraine installed to protect its shores. When not in Ukrainian waters, ships follow the Black Sea coasts of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey, which are under NATO protection.
Dozens of cargo vessels have successfully sailed that route in recent weeks. The Ukrainian authorities had hailed that news as proof that ships could navigate safely in and out of Ukrainian waters. But Ukrainian officials have made clear that ships could still be targeted by Russian forces, and experts cautioned that the risks remained high.
In particular, Russia and Ukraine have littered the Black Sea with explosive devices since the start of the war last year, prompting concerns that ships could hit a sea mine.
In September, the crew of a cargo ship traveling across the Black Sea was rescued and evacuated to the Romanian port of Sulina, near the border with Ukraine, after the ship was damaged by what the authorities suggested could have been a mine explosion.
Mr. Klymenko said the episode showed that the security of the new corridor needed to be improved. He also appealed to international organizations to condemn the attack and qualify Russia’s actions “as sea piracy.”