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Commercial Ships Carrying Grain are Getting Air Support from UK's RAF

grain ships
UK says its air force is deterring Russian actions toward commercial ships carrying grain (file photo)

Published Sep 8, 2023 1:47 PM by The Maritime Executive

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak revealed today that the UK is undertaking efforts to support commercial shipping in the Black Sea transporting grain from Ukraine and deterring Russian attacks on cargo ships. This comes as Russia has continued its nightly attacks on Ukraine’s Black Sea and Danube seaports despite continuing calls to resume the grain agreement.

On the eve of the G20 Summit starting in India, the prime minister’s office announced a series of new initiatives by the UK designed to promote global food security and respond to “Putin’s weaponization of Ukrainian grain.” The UK blames a spike in global food prices on Russia’s actions highlighting that since “Putin’s decision to rip up the initiative,” Russia has declared that all ships transiting to Ukrainian Black Sea ports are treated as military vessels irrespective of the cargo they are carrying.

In response, the UK said as part of its surveillance operations, “the Royal Air Force (RAF) aircraft are conducting flights over the area to deter Russia from carrying out illegal strikes against civilian vessels transporting grain.” The UK notes that Russia however did fire shots and board one cargo ship bound for one of Ukraine’s Danube ports, “Actions which may constitute a violation of International Humanitarian Law,” they said in their statement.

Since July, the UK assesses that Russia has also damaged or destroyed at least 26 civilian port facilities, warehouses, silos and grain elevators. These attacks they believe have directly reduced Ukraine’s export capacity by one-third and destroyed enough grain to feed more than one million people for an entire year.

Ukrainian officials highlight that the attacks are continuing with reports that 14 drones were destroyed over the Odesa region, including the Danube ports, on Thursday night. The Deputy Chairman of the Ukrainian Agrarian Council told the BBC that more than 270,000 tonnes of grain have been destroyed during the recent attacks. The attack on Wednesday night into Thursday morning lasted three hours with additional damage to grain silos and conveyors. 

Before the war, the UK reports Ukraine was the world’s fifth largest wheat exporter, fourth largest corn exporter, and third largest rapeseed exporter. Grain accounted for 41 percent of Ukrainian export revenue, and almost two-thirds of the grain exported by the country goes to the developing world, said Sunak.

“We will use our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance to monitor Russian activity in the Black Sea, call out Russia if we see warning signs that they are preparing attacks on civilian shipping or infrastructure in the Black Sea, and attribute attacks to prevent false flag claims that seek to deflect blame from Russia,” Sunak said outlining the UK efforts.

In November, the UK supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, will convene an international food security summit. The focus will be on tackling the causes of food insecurity and malnutrition. In addition, the UK will contribute £3 million to the World Food Program.

These efforts came as Ukraine reported it is expanding grain exports from the ports in neighboring Romania and now Croatia. Ukraine’s First Deputy Prime Minister admitted that Croatian ports are a “niche trade route,” but said it is popular and they look to increase exports along this route. Romanian previously said it was expanding access from the Danube to its seaport of Constanta. This is happening as Russia has not shown any willingness to restart the Black Sea grain agreements.