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Two former Royal Navy Sandown-class minehunters that the UK government has gifted to Ukraine have been blocked from reaching the country by Turkey, which controls the Bosphorus/Dardanelles and thus access to the Black Sea from the Aegean.

Turkey’s refusal to allow the passage of the minehunters to Ukraine, first reported by media outlets on 2 January 2024, is based on the Montreux Convention: an international pact enacted in 1936. The Convention stipulates that in wartime, if Turkey is not involved in the conflict, the passage of warring states’ warships through the Bosphorus/Dardanelles will be denied, except if they are returning to their home base.

While the UK Ministry of Defence had known this could be an issue, it was hoped that the minehunters would be accorded passage because they would be used to secure Ukrainian grain exports, the recipients of which are among the world’s poorest nations. However, the vessels, formerly HMS Grimsby and HMS Shoreham in Royal Navy service, were commissioned into the Ukrainian Navy on 2 July 2023 and are now known as Chernihiv and Cherkasy respectively. They have thus been effectively under Ukrainian control for six months and are therefore affected by the conditions of the Montreux Convention. As a result their passage to Ukraine will only be allowed when hostilities caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine come to an end.

The training of Ukrainian crews on the Sandown-class vessels began in July 2022.

The former Royal Navy Sandown-class minehunters Grimsby and Shoreham were recommissioned into the Ukrainian Navy in July 2023 as Chernihiv and Cherkasy respectively. (Photo: Crown Copyright)