The first grain ship to leave Ukraine and cross the Black Sea under a wartime deal passed inspection Wednesday in Istanbul, Turkey, and headed on to Lebanon. Ukraine said 17 other vessels were “loaded and waiting permission to leave,” but there was no word yet on when they could depart.
A joint civilian inspection team spent three hours checking the cargo and crew of the Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni. The ship left Odesa on Monday carrying Ukrainian corn, a U.N. statement said.
The Joint Coordination Center team included officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, and the United Nations, who signed deals last month to create safe Black Sea shipping corridors. These demarcated channels were approved for the export of Ukraine’s desperately needed agricultural products as Russia’s war upon its neighbor grinds on.
Ukraine is a major global grain supplier but the war had blocked most exports. The July 22 deal aimed to ease food security concerns around the globe. World food prices have been soaring in a crisis blamed on the war, supply chain problems, and COVID-19.
Although U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Razoni’s journey a “significant step,” no other ships left from Ukraine within 48 hours of Razoni, and no explanations have been given for delays.
A U.N. statement said inspectors “gained valuable information” from the ship’s crew about its voyage through the Black Sea maritime humanitarian corridor. It also said that the coordination center was “fine-tuning procedures.”
The inspectors seek to ensure that outbound cargo ships carry only grain, fertilizer, or food and not any other commodities, and that inbound ships are not carrying weapons.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain—most of it said to be destined for livestock—has been stuck in Ukraine since the start of the war. Ukraine’s top diplomat said Wednesday that more ships are ready to carry much-needed grain and food out of the country.
“Further ships are already ready for departure. They will depart from the ports that are part of the grain initiative in accordance with the agreed schedule, and we hope that everything will work out and the Russian Federation will not take any steps that would destroy these agreements,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in Kyiv.
Kuleba says the U.N.-backed deal “is beneficial to Ukrainian farmers, it is beneficial to the Ukrainian economy, and it is beneficial to the world.”
Even as ships begin carrying food supplies out of Ukraine, grain stockpiles are expected to keep growing there. Despite the war, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal estimates his country will harvest up to 67 million tons of grain this year, up from 60 million tons last year.
A senior official from a leading Ukrainian farm association reckoned Ukraine would have about 50 million tons of grain for export this year.
Before the war, Ukraine exported around five to six million tons of grain per month, according to Denys Marchuk, the deputy head of the All-Ukrainian Agrarian Council.
May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the Earth and plenty of grain and wine. — Genesis 27:28
(The Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni sails under Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge after being inspected by Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish, and U.N. officials at the entrance of the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul, Turkey, on August 3, 2022. Razoni, loaded up with 26,000 tons of corn, is the first cargo ship to leave Ukraine since the Russian invasion. AP/Emrah Gurel)