The first ship to carry grain under a UN-brokered export deal left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on Monday, raising hopes that a global food crisis caused by the Russian invasion could be alleviated.
The M/V Razoni was the first commercial vessel to leave the crucial Black Sea port since February 26, two days after Russia launched its attack on Ukraine.
It is en route to the port of Tripoli, Lebanon, carrying a cargo of about 26,500 tons (more than 29,000 US tons) of corn, the United Nations said.
The trip comes after a breakthrough agreement brokered by the UN and Turkey and signed by representatives of Russia and Ukraine in July that will allow for the resumption of vital grain exports. About 20 million tons of wheat and corn are stranded in the port of Odessa, Samantha Power, administrator for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), said last week.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba described Monday as a “day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.”
Under the terms of the deal, the ship will anchor off the coast of Istanbul around 3 p.m. local time on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET) where it will be inspected before heading to its final destination.
Since the early days of the war, Ukraine’s southern ports had been blocked by Russia, preventing Ukrainian grain from traveling to the many countries that depend on it.
The agreement, signed on July 23, promised to unblock the ports on the Black Sea to allow the safe passage of grain and oilseeds, following routes established by Ukrainian sea pilots to avoid mines, and with stops in Istanbul to ensure to ensure that weapons are not smuggled back to port. country.
It followed months of diplomacy and sparked hopes around the world — but the deal’s stability was put to the test within hours when Russian airstrikes hit Odessa.
Senior Western diplomats have reacted with cautious optimism after Monday’s departure, welcoming the resumption of grain exports but urging Russia to stick to the deal.
“This is such an important step, but it is a first step,” British Ambassador to Kiev Melinda Simmons tweeted Monday. “[Russia] must now honor their side of this deal and allow grain ships to pass safely. And they must stop burning and appropriate [Ukrainian] grain.”
“The world will look forward to continuing the implementation of this agreement to feed people around the world with millions of tons of retained Ukrainian grain,” added the US embassy in Kiev.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday that the shipment leaving was “very positive”.
“It is a good opportunity to test the effectiveness of the mechanisms agreed during the Istanbul talks,” he said.
No additional grain shipments are expected to leave Ukraine’s Black Sea ports on Monday, according to the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) in Istanbul. The JCC will monitor the export of Ukrainian grain. According to the center, the dates and timings for further shipments are still being worked out and are unlikely to be finalized until the first shipment goes through inspection in Istanbul on Tuesday.
Ukraine and Russia are both major suppliers of food to the world. In normal times, Ukraine would export about three quarters of the grain it produces. According to data from the European Commission, about 90% of these exports were shipped by sea from the ports on the Black Sea.
The UN hopes that under the agreement, a monthly export of 5 million US tons of grain per month would leave ports, a figure comparable to pre-war levels.
But despite the optimism surrounding the deal, the Russian invasion has still significantly affected Ukraine’s crops.
Last month, Ukraine’s grain traders’ union said it expected a grain and oilseed crop of 69.4 million tons, slightly higher than previous forecasts, but well below the 106 million tons harvested last year.