Ukraine getting closer to unblocking its seaports

2022/08/04 at 7:51 PM

For more than five months in a row, the handling operations at the Ukrainian seaports have been being blocked due to the Russian military aggression. The first bulker, loaded with the local-produced grain, departed from the Port of Odesa on the first day of August 2022. Another vessel is sailing towards Ukraine to pick up another batch of cereals. Meanwhile, there are some unsolved issues that could threaten the existence of the so-called ‘grain corridor’.

Two weeks ago, on 22 July, Istanbul witnessed the signing of the historic document that ‘opens a path for commercial food exports from Ukraine in the Black Sea’, as António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations noted. This international organisation alongside Türkiye were the mediator in the negotiating process. According to the Istanbul document, three countries, Ukraine, Russia and Türkiye, agreed to set up the maritime humanitarian corridor for exporting grain from three Ukrainian seaports, to be more precise, from Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi.

The RAZONI bulker is leaving the Port of Odesa, source: Ukrainian Naval Forces

“No military ships, aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) may approach the maritime humanitarian corridor,” the agreement says. To monitor and secure the safety of shipping within the corridor, the parties established the Joint Coordination Centre based in Istanbul and the inspection teams that will review the merchant ships sailing from Ukraine to the third countries. The inspection will occur in the harbours determined by Türkiye at the entry/exit to the Turkish Straits.

First vessel

There were many debates regarding the feasibility and functionality of the mentioned corridor. Meanwhile, on Monday, 1 August 2022, the first bulker went out to sea from the Port of Odesa. The RAZONI ship, loaded with more than 26,000 tonnes of corn, headed towards Lebanon. A day later, it was inspected in the Turkish Straits in accordance with the Istanbul agreement.

“On the example of RAZONI, all the necessary control and coordination measures between Ukraine and the signatory partners, the UN and Türkiye, are being finalised and worked out,” said Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s minister of infrastructure. As for Thursday, 4 August, the RAZONI bulker is sailing near the island of Lesbos. It is expected that it will reach its final destination on Sunday, 7 August. None of the parties that signed the agreement in Istanbul has any claims to each other in this regard.

Next shipments

The following event proves the confidence in the document. The OSPREYS bulk vessel crossed the Turkish Straits towards the Port of Chornomorsk to pick up a new batch of grain. According to the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine, there are 16 loaded ships waiting for departure from the three Ukrainian seaports. “These are the vessels that have been blocked since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion. At the same time, we are receiving applications for the arrival of new vessels for loading agricultural products,” added Oleksandr Kubrakov.

Unsolved issues

In general, the Ukrainian shippers are planning to move at least 20 million tonnes of grain via the humanitarian corridor. At least is because the mentioned figure is the rest of last year’s harvest. According to the preliminary estimations, the grain export from Ukraine will be 40 per cent less than in the previous marketing year (July 2021 – June 2022) when the country moved abroad slightly over 61.5 million tonnes. This means that the shippers, forwarders and shipping lines have plenty of work to be done.

Inspection of the RAZONI bulker with the Ukrainian corn at the Turkish Straits, source: the Ministry of National Defense of Türkiye

Meanwhile, all these plans can be easily destroyed by several unsolved issues. First of all, due to security reasons. Nobody can predict the future course of the Russo-Ukrainian War. The Russian Armed Forces are constantly bombing the Ukrainian cities, destroying civil infrastructure and killing civilians. They launched a rocket attack on Odesa on 23 July, the next day after signing the agreement in Istanbul, and destroyed some facilities in the Port of Odesa. Who can guarantee that they will not repeat such kinds of attacks?

Another issue is the term of the deal. “This initiative will remain in effect for 120 days from the date of signature by all Parties and can be extended automatically for the same period, unless one of the Parties notifies the other of the intent to terminate the initiative or modify it,” the document says. But what will happen if one of the parties really wants to terminate the agreement? This question is also without an answer. Therefore, Volodymyr Zelenskyi, the President of Ukraine, continues to insist on looking for alternative ways. “Still grains find a way to be delivered alternatively,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

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