Despite Continued Russian Strikes, Black Sea Grain Deal Inches Forward

Grain awaiting export at Odesa (Charles Michel)

Published Jul 26, 2022 10:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

Officials from Turkey, the UN, Ukraine and Russia have set up a coordination center to implement their agreement to provide safe passage for Ukrainian grain from Odesa to the Bosporus, and the work at the center will begin after a ceremony Wednesday. 

The center is the first step in what analysts suggest will be a difficult process to make sure that ships can get to Odesa and other nearby Ukrainian grain ports, load cargo and depart safely. The potential risks include drifting sea mines and the possibility of Russian attack, as emphasized by the missile strike on Odesa on Saturday.

According to security consultancy Dryad Global, if the corridor opens and enters into operation, ships owned by Ukrainian state enterprises will be the first to make the transit. After the joint coordination center in Istanbul has begun its work and organized the regulations for the initiative, commercial vessels from neutral states will follow suit.

The deal is notably not a cessation of hostilities in the northwestern Black Sea. Russia struck Ukraine's Black Sea coastline with air-launched missiles again on Tuesday, according to Ukraine’s Operational Command South. The command reported that the strikes included an attack on port infrastructure in the Mykolaiv area, east of Odesa. 

Dryad noted that while mines might be the most prominent and high-profile potential threat to the convoys, Russian attacks are harder to predict and might pose the biggest long-term risk to shipping. Shipowners and insurers are well aware of the multiple strikes Russia conducted on merchant vessels in the opening months of the war, including one resulting in a fatality

"It is crucial that Turkiye and the United Nations devise mechanisms to continually reassert Russian commitment to the Initiative and its guarantees of safety, rather than assuming Russian compliance through participation," cautioned Dryad analyst Cameron Watson. "This conflict has repeatedly demonstrated the importance of never assuming Russia will behave within the bounds of reason."

In addition to the possibility of an intentional Russian attack, human error might just as easily set off a strike, he warned.

"There is evidence of weakening command and control in Russia forces, so an attack as a result of ill-discipline miscalculation remains a realistic possibility," Watson noted.