Two Ukrainian patrol boats operating near the contested region of Donestk were shelled by artillery fired by unknown forces, the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service announced on Monday.
The two patrol craft — a Kalakan-class and a Zhuk-class — attached to the Mauripol Marine Guard were operating about three miles from the costal town of Bezimenne on the Azoz Sea when they came under fire from land-based artillery, according to a Sunday update from the Border Guard.
The barrage — likely by pro-Russian separatist forces — sank the Zhuk-class patrol craft. Eight of the Zhuk’s crew were rescued, seven were treated for burns and two remain missing.
View Ukrainian Patrol Craft Sunk in a larger map
The maritime patrols — conducted between the seized Russian territory of Crimea and contested Eastern Ukraine — are in large part to prevent ad-hoc amphibious landings of pro-Russian forces behind the current lines of conflict.
The Ukrainian military and the Border Guard have been jointly tasked in seven different naval groups for the mission, according to a Tuesday report in Jane’s Defense Weekly
As fighting on the ground move closer to the key port city of Mauripol, the shelling could point toward larger goals of the Russian-aligned separatist forces.
“The attack on the patrol craft… could just represent the identification of a target of opportunity by anti-Kiev forces, or could indicate that the separatists are actively seeking to degrade Kiev’s control of the coastline,” reported Jane’s.
“This could be being done either to prevent Kiev conducting shore bombardment of anti-Kiev positions, or to enable the landing of rebel infiltration groups behind the frontline.”
Ukraine’s Navy was badly hurt following the March forced annexation of Crimea by Russian forces. Several men and officers defected to the Russian Navy and the Ukrainian ships were seized and slowly given back to Kiev.
The Ukrainian State Border Guard Service is not a branch of the military and instead a national law enforcement service.
The Zhuk-class patrol craft displace about 35.9 tons and are about 78 feet long, according to Naval Institute’s Guide to Combat Fleets of the World. They field a crew of 10 — one officer and nine enlisted.