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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

First grain ship leaving Ukraine sails smoothly to Turkish waters

By Matina Stevis-Gridneff

The first ship laden with grains to leave Ukraine’s Black Sea ports since the Russian invasion began in February was enjoying a smooth voyage Tuesday and was expected to reach a Turkish port later in the day, while another vessel prepared to follow suit, marking an uneventful first full day in what has been a high-risk breakthrough for the warring parties.

The vessel, the Razoni, loaded with 26,000 tons of corn, on Monday became the first ship out of Odesa under an international agreement to allow the safe passage of such cargo. It was guided safely through mined Ukrainian waters by a tugboat, which completed its escort mission when the bulk carrier reached the edge of Ukraine’s maritime borders with Moldova, to the south.

The ship, which is mostly crewed by Syrians, is bound for the Lebanese port of Tripoli, but it will first stop in Turkey to undergo an inspection. Local officials said it was scheduled to arrive there by midnight.

The Riva Wind, another bulk carrier moored in Odesa since February, has also been laden with 50,000 tons of feed grain and is preparing to leave on its first voyage in nearly six months, its owners said in a statement Tuesday. More than a dozen other vessels are awaiting their cargo and instructions to sail off, Ukrainian authorities have said.

Under the international agreement breaking through the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports, brokered by the United Nations and Turkey in intense diplomatic talks that lasted three months, the ships will be inspected by joint teams in Turkish waters. Turkey has said it expects one ship per day to leave Ukraine’s ports under the agreement.

The Turkish defense ministry said the vessels would likely be checked at the entrance and exit of the Bosporus, where they will wait in line to enter one of the world’s most crucial trade waterways. Returning vessels headed to Ukrainian ports empty to be loaded with more grains will also be inspected before entering the Black Sea through the Turkish Bosporus Straits, to ensure that they are not carrying weapons, per Russia’s demands.

The deal, under which Russia has committed to grant safe passage to the vessels, was reached last month and is aimed at first getting more than 20 millions tons of grains stuck in storage facilities in Ukrainian ports around Odesa out to global markets, and then creating a predictable and steady flow of the crops.

The quantities are huge and desperately needed around the world. Ukraine is one of the world’s breadbaskets, and shortages in the Middle East and Africa have fueled spiraling inflation and bread shortages, pushing some of the world’s most fragile nations close to famine.

Ukraine had installed mines across its coastline to quell a possible Russian amphibious attack. Now, under the agreement to unblock its ports and resume the trade of grains, Ukraine is providing the ships’ crews guidance on how to navigate the mined waters, as well as escorts to help them out.

The shipments, if they continue at a reasonable pace and with safety, have the potential to make a significant difference in the global supply and therefore price of key grains.

“If this corridor proves even reasonably successful, it will go a long way to alleviating shortages of grains across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia,” said Michael Magdovitz, a senior commodities analyst at Rabobank.

“We expect corn exports to more than double from 9 million tons to 18 million to 22 million tons per year if the corridor is even mildly successful,” he added. “To put the additional 9 million tons of corn exports in perspective, the U.S. and EU have nearly lost that amount of grain in the recent heat wave.”

Yet experts say that even with Ukrainian grain exports moving again, a global food crisis fueled by wars, the economic devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and extreme weather often worsened by climate change is likely to endure.

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