ISTANBUL – The first grain ship to leave Ukraine and cross the Black Sea under a wartime agreement passed inspection on Wednesday in Istanbul and headed for Lebanon. Ukraine said 17 other ships were “loaded and awaiting permission to leave,” but it was not yet known when they could leave.
A joint civilian inspection team spent three hours checking the cargo and crew of the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni ship, which left Odesa on Monday carrying Ukrainian corn, a UN statement said.
The Joint Coordination Center team included officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations, who last month signed agreements to create safe maritime corridors of the Black Sea to export Ukraine’s desperately needed agricultural products as Russia’s war against his neighbor he advances.
Ukraine is a major global supplier of wheat, but the war has stalled most exports, so the July 22 deal was aimed at facilitating food security around the world. World food prices have soared in a crisis attributed to war, supply chain problems and COVID-19.
Although US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Razoni’s voyage a “significant step”, no other ships have left Ukraine in the past 48 hours and no explanation has been given for that delay.
A UN statement said the inspectors “obtained valuable information” from the crew of the Razoni on its journey through the Black Sea humanitarian maritime corridor and the coordination center was “fine-tuning procedures”.
The Turkish Ministry of National Defense tweeted a photo of an inspector reaching the Razoni’s hold and touching some of its 26,527 tons of corn for chicken feed. The Razoni’s horn sounded as the inspectors left the ship, then headed for Lebanon.
Controls aim to ensure that outgoing merchant ships carry only grain, fertilizer or food and no other goods and that incoming ships do not carry weapons.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain – most of it destined for livestock – have been stranded in Ukraine since the start of the 6-month war. Ukraine’s top diplomat said Wednesday that more ships are ready to haul much-needed grain and food out of the country’s Black Sea ports.
“Other ships are already ready for departure. They will depart from the ports that are part of the wheat initiative according to the agreed program and we hope that everything is resolved and that the Russian Federation does not take any measures that destroy these agreements, “Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said at a joint press conference in Kiev with its Estonian counterpart.
Kuleba said the UN-backed deal “is beneficial to Ukrainian farmers, is beneficial to the Ukrainian economy and is beneficial to the world.”
“Now it is Ukraine that is literally saving the world from further rising food prices and starvation in individual countries,” he said.
However, a trip to the Black Sea carries significant risks due to the war. Two civilian ships struck explosive devices last week near the Bystre estuary of the Danube River, according to Bridget Diakun, a reporter for Lloyd’s List, a global shipping publication.
Analysts say the authorities’ first priority is to get out the ships that have been stranded for months in the three Ukrainian ports covered by the agreement. Sixteen ships loaded with grain have been stranded in the ports of Odesa and Chernomorsk since the Russian invasion, according to Lloyd’s List.
Even slower is the effort to bring ships to Ukrainian ports to extract the millions of tons of grain in storage.
Insurance brokers have been “cautious, slow, so far,” said David Osler, insurance editor of Lloyd’s List. “At this stage, everyone is hesitant.”
Wheat stocks are expected to continue to grow. Despite the war, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal has estimated his country will harvest up to 67 million tons of wheat this year, up from 60 million tons last year.
A senior official from a major Ukrainian agricultural association estimated that Ukraine would have around 50 million tons of wheat to export this year.
Before the war, Ukraine exported about 5-6 million tons of wheat per month, according to Denys Marchuk, deputy head of the Pan-Ukrainian Agrarian Council. He said Ukrainian authorities hope to include more Black Sea ports in the export agreement.
In other news Wednesday:
—— Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called Russia “number one” among global sponsors of terrorism and called for the creation of a strengthened global security architecture “that ensures that no state can ever resort to terror against another. state”. In his nocturnal speech, Zelensky referred to the explosion in a prison in eastern Ukraine that last week killed more than 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war and injured 75 others. Ukrainian and Russian officials accused each other of deliberately destroyed parts of the prison complex to cover up the atrocities.
—— Russian forces continued shelling the port city of Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine. Regional Governor Vitaliy Kim said the bombing damaged a pier, an industrial enterprise, residential buildings, a garage cooperative, a supermarket and a pharmacy. Mykolaiv mayor Oleksandr Sienkevych told The Associated Press that 131 civilians have died in the city so far as a result of Russian bombing and another 590 have been seriously injured.
—— The Ukrainian military claimed that Ukrainian forces repelled over a dozen Russian assaults in the main eastern province of Donetsk and said none of the Russian attempts to advance in the previous 24 hours were successful. However, Russian bombing has killed at least four civilians in Donetsk province, the Ukrainian presidential office said. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has ordered everyone in the embattled province to evacuate as soon as possible.
—— The UN chief says he is appointing a fact-finding mission in response to requests from Russia and Ukraine to investigate the explosion in a prisoner of war prison in a breakaway region of eastern Ukraine that reportedly killed 53 prisoners Ukrainians and wounded 75 others. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told reporters that he does not have the authority to conduct criminal investigations, but has the authority to conduct fact-finding missions. Both sides said last Friday’s assault was premeditated with the aim of concealing the atrocities.
—— Moscow has drastically reduced the amount of gas it sends to Europe, igniting fears that it may stop sending much-needed fuel. Across Europe, nations are rushing to cut energy use this summer so they can fill gas storage tanks for the cold winter ahead.
Robert Badendieck and Mehmet Guzel in Istanbul, Aya Batrawy in Dubai, Joanna Kozlowska in London and Edith Lederer in New York contributed to this report.
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