By Christian Edwards, Kosta Gak and Mariya Knight, CNN
Kyiv (CNN) – A Russian missile struck a cargo ship as it docked in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Odesa, killing the pilot and injuring four others, Ukrainian officials said.
Ukraine’s southern military command said a Russian tactical aircraft in the Black Sea launched an anti-radar missile at the ship on Wednesday afternoon.
“The rocket hit the superstructure of a civilian vessel under the flag of Liberia, at the moment of its entry into the port,” Operational Command South said in a statement on Telegram.
The ship’s 43-year-old pilot was killed, and three Filipino crew members and a port worker were injured.
Russia has repeatedly attacked Ukrainian ports since withdrawing from a UN-brokered deal that guaranteed the safe passage of grain though the Black Sea earlier this year. After Russia pulled out Ukraine launched its own humanitarian corridor to try to circumvent what is in effect a Russian blockade.
Ukraine’s infrastructure minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the ship was supposed to carry iron ore to China, and described the extensive damage Russian strikes have inflicted on Ukrainian infrastructure since it allowed the grain deal to lapse.
“This is the 21st attack on Black Sea ports in the Odesa region since Russia left the grain deal in July. During this time, the terrorist country damaged more than 160 infrastructure facilities and 122 transport vehicles,” Kubrakov wrote on Facebook.
“That is why Ukraine is doing everything to strengthen air defense and protect the south of Ukraine from Russian terrorist attacks,” the minister said.
Ukrainian authorities have launched an investigation into the Russian strike.
Ukraine, often referred to as the “breadbasket of Europe,” is a major exporter of grain, much of which is sent to developing countries in Africa. After Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country, its navy blockaded Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, preventing Ukraine from exporting its crops.
The blockade remained in place for several months, before Russia agreed to the Black Sea Grain Initiative in July 2022 – a major diplomatic breakthrough brokered by the United Nations and Turkey – which allowed the exports of grain to continue for a limited period.
The deal was renewed numerous times, but Russia finally allowed it to lapse in July this year. Russia resumed its blockade and mounted a prolonged bombardment of Ukraine’s ports and grain storage infrastructure.
The Russian defense ministry warned at the time that all ships sailing in the Black Sea to Ukrainian ports would be considered as potential carriers of military cargo. The United Nations warned of the risks to global food security and accused Russia of using food as a “weapon.”
Ukraine said Russia was “grossly violating” its international obligations by threatening civilian ships. Its foreign ministry described Russia’s actions as an attempt “to eliminate a competitor from the market, deliberately increase world food prices and enrich itself at the expense of the suffering of millions of people around the world.”
Ukraine has since attempted to circumvent Russia’s blockade by exporting grain via the Danube River, and through a deal with Poland and Lithuania that would shift some of the border checks for Ukrainian-Polish border to the Lithuanian port of Klaipeda in order to speed up exports.
Andrii Klymenko, the head of the Black Sea Institute of Strategic Studies, said on Facebook that Russia’s strike on the cargo ship as an act of “piracy.”
Russian authorities did not immediately comment on Wednesday’s strike.