On 18 November, Russia returned to Ukraine its Berdyansk and Nikopol boats and the Yany Kapu tug it attacked and seized on 25 November 2018, according to the press service of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the press centre of the Ukrainian Navy.
"On 18 November, three ships of the Ukrainian Navy were handed over to the Ukrainian side... They are material evidence in the ongoing criminal process in Russia on illegal border crossing," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
According to it, the transfer "became possible due to the fact that the Russian authorities completed the necessary investigative actions in relation to the ships and they are no longer required to be present on the territory of the Russian Federation for the criminal process to continue".
The Ukrainian military reported that the ships were being towed towards Odessa.
"The process of returning the Ukrainian boats Nikopol, Berdyansk and the tugboat Yany Kapu began in the Black Sea today, 18 November. Now the Ukrainian tugboats Tytan, Haydamaky and the search and rescue vessel Sapphire together with the [returned] boats and tugboats started moving towards mainland Ukraine," the fleet said in a statement.
On 16 November, Ukraine sent tugboats and a search and rescue ship to receive the ships captured in the Kerch Strait almost a year ago.
A day earlier, the Russian daily Kommersant reported on a "fundamental decision" to return the ships to Ukraine. According to the newspaper, it was agreed to transfer the ships before the summit of the Normandy Four heads of state. At the same time, the Russian Foreign Ministry denied the link to any specific dates and said that Kyiv could pick them up at any time.
Three Ukrainian ships with 24 crew members onboard were attacked and captured by the Russian military in the Kerch Strait area on 25 November 2018. The Ukrainian ships were on the way to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol at the time. The Ukrainian sailors returned home on 7 September 2019 during a large-scale exchange of prisoners.
On 25 May, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ruled that the Russian Federation should immediately transfer the hijacked ships under the control of Ukraine. Russia ignored this demand, as well as seven more requirements of Ukraine.
Ukrainian Navy Commander Ihor Voronchenko said that Russia does not want to return the ships because they are evidence of Russian aggression.