Ship boat

Ship carrying grain leaves Odessa, Ukraine to ease food crisis

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ODESSA, Ukraine — The first grain-carrying ship left a Ukrainian port on Monday morning as part of a United Nations-brokered deal to ease a global food crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The cargo ship, loaded with more than 26,000 metric tons of corn, left Odessa amid fears the deal, signed in Istanbul in late July, would collapse after a Russian missile strike on the port a day after signing.

The honk of a Ukrainian tug’s horn signaled the departure of the Razoni, a Sierra Leonean-flagged bulk carrier which began the voyage at 9:30 a.m. local time. The ship was destined for Tripoli, Lebanon, according to the Turkish Defense Ministry. It had been stuck in the port of Odessa since February 18, according to maritime tracking data.

Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said in a message on twitter that the ship was the first to leave the port of Odessa since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. A Russian naval blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports has halted grain exports, contributing to global food shortages.

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“Thanks to the support of all our partner countries and @UN, we were able to fully implement the agreement signed in Istanbul,” Kubrakov tweeted on Monday morning.

Sixteen more ships are waiting to depart, according to the minister, who noted that the expected resumption of grain shipments would provide at least $1 billion in much-needed foreign exchange reserves for cash-strapped Ukraine.

After months of intense negotiations, European, UN and Ukrainian officials have welcomed the departure of the first ship.

In a statement on Monday, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the ship’s departure is “an important first step” and expressed her gratitude to “the UN and Turkey for helping to secure this agreement”.

Russia and Ukraine were among the world’s leading producers and exporters of grain, cooking oil and fertilizer before Moscow’s invasion. Last year, Ukraine accounted for 10% of global wheat exports, according to the United Nations.

How will the Ukrainian grain deal affect the global food crisis?

With more than 20 million tonnes of grain from last year’s harvest stuck in storage, resuming shipments by sea is a top priority for the Ukrainian government. But the Russian blockade has forced grain sellers to use alternatives, including river ports or expensive overland routes, which have delayed deliveries.

The July 22 agreement signed in Turkey guarantees the safe passage of commercial vessels from Odessa and two other Ukrainian ports. Scheduled to remain in force for 120 days, it relies on the monitoring of maritime corridors designated by delegations from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations in Istanbul.

Turkey and the United Nations negotiated negotiations for months amid disputes over the terms of the deal, including security guarantees demanded by Ukraine. Russia and some Western countries have pushed for the clearance of Ukrainian ports, which Kyiv feared would leave it vulnerable to attack, UN officials said. Ultimately, mine avoidance was left to Ukrainian ship pilots guiding merchant ships.

A Russian missile strike on the port of Odessa less than 24 hours after the deal was struck threatened to scuttle it.

“Ensuring that existing grains and foodstuffs can get to global markets is a humanitarian imperative,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement welcoming Razoni’s departure.

The Istanbul Coordination Center said in a statement that it had agreed on “specific coordinates and restrictions” along the maritime corridor and “requested all its participants to inform their respective military” and other authorities to ensure the safe passage of the Razoni. On Monday evening, maritime tracking data showed that the ship was heading along the corridor, southwest of Odessa and skirting the coast of Ukraine.

It was due to arrive in Turkish territorial waters on Tuesday. After inspection in Turkey, it would continue to Lebanon, the coordination center said.