First grain ship leaves Ukraine under Russia deal

By Matt Murphy

BBC News

The Razoni leaving port on MondayImage source, Getty Images

The first ship carrying grain has left a Ukrainian port under a landmark deal with Russia.

Turkish and Ukrainian officials say the ship left the southern port of Odesa early on Monday morning local time.

Russia has been blockading Ukrainian ports since February, but the two sides agreed a deal to resume shipments.

It is hoped the deal will ease the global food crisis and lower the price of grain.

Turkey said the Sierra Leone-flagged vessel, the Razoni, would dock at the port of Tripoli in Lebanon, adding that further shipments were planned over the coming weeks.

The Joint Co-ordination Centre, set up in Istanbul under the deal, said the ship was carrying some 26,000 tonnes of corn and was expected to arrive in Turkish waters for inspection on Tuesday.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres welcomed the departure of the ship and hailed Turkey for its role in working to implement the agreement.

“Today Ukraine, together with partners, takes another step to prevent world hunger,” Ukraine’s Infrastructure Minister Alexander Kubrakov wrote on Facebook.

“Unlocking ports will provide at least $1 billion in foreign exchange revenue to the economy and an opportunity for the agricultural sector to plan for next year.”

Mr Kubrakov added that 16 other ships were waiting to depart in the ports of Odesa Region in the coming weeks.

Last month’s deal – brokered by the UN and Turkey – took two months to reach and is set to last for 120 days. It can be renewed if both parties agree.

The blockade of Ukraine’s grain has contributed to a global food crisis with wheat-based products like bread and pasta becoming more expensive, and cooking oils and fertiliser also increasing in price.

Russia and Ukraine jointly account for nearly a third of global wheat supplies. In 2019 Ukraine accounted for 16% of the world’s corn supplies and 42% of sunflower oil, according to UN data.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called the shipment a “relief for the world” and urged Moscow to “respect its part of the deal”.

Under the terms of the deal, Russia has agreed not to target ports while shipments are in transit and Ukraine has agreed that its naval vessels will guide cargo ships through waters that have been mined.

Turkey – supported by the United Nations – will inspect ships, to allay Russian fears of weapons smuggling.

Three ports in southern Ukraine – Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdenny – are expected to be the focal point of the exports.

Last month’s deal was thrown into chaos less than 24 hours after it was announced that Russia had launched two missiles at Odesa port.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said the strike showed that Moscow could not be trusted to stick to the deal.

But the Kremlin said the attack was aimed at a Ukrainian naval ship docked at the port and insisted that the strike did not affect the agreement.

Odesa MP Oleksiy Goncharenko told the BBC he expected shipments to continue from the other ports on Tuesday but warned Russia might attempt to disrupt them with further military action.

“We see these awful missile attacks against Odesa in the last days – that is just their attempts to increase the risks for ship owners, for crew, not to come to Odesa,” he said.

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