First Bulker Departs Odesa Carrying Grain in More than Five Months
The first bulker in more than five months departed the Port of Odesa transporting Ukrainian grain under the UN-brokered accord to provide a humanitarian corridor to move grain across the Black Sea. The departure was delayed for a few days since the end of last week but nonetheless is seen as a milestone achievement.
UN and Ukrainian officials announced the departure of a nondescript 26-year-old bulker registered in Sierra Leone. The 29,292 dwt bulker Razoni was one of the numerous ships that had been caught in the Black Sea port since the Russian invasion.
The Turkish Defense Ministry confirmed that the vessel departed Odesa after having been inspected to confirm seaworthiness and in accordance with the terms of the agreement. The Joint Coordination Center operating in Istanbul authorized the departure and the ship was guided by the Ukrainians to clear the mines outside the harbor entrance. The JCC agreed to the specific coordinates and restrictions of the Safe Humanitarian Maritime Corridor and communicated the details to the vessel as well as monitoring its safe passage across the Black Sea.
The Razoni is expected to make a stop at Istanbul on Tuesday for an inspection to confirm that it is only carrying grain and not smuggling any banned materials. The reports said it was loaded with 26,527 metric tonnes of corn bound for Tripoli, Libya where she is expected to arrive on August 3.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres released a statement marking the departure. He said he hoped it would be the first of many commercial ships to move under the accord. Reports said that the UN is targeting transporting at least five million tonnes of grain from Ukraine each month. This would mark a substantial increase versus the smaller amounts mostly being trucked or moved by rail since the invasion began.
Russian officials acknowledged the departure calling it a test of the agreements. There had been a last-minute holdup on Friday while the final details of the corridor were agreed. The ships are beginning to move despite ongoing attacks in the eastern Black Sea targeting Ukrainian ports. On Sunday, the port of Mykolaiv came under bombardment.
Ukrainian officials said that at least 16 more vessels were preparing to leave already loaded with as much as 600,000 tonnes of cargo. They are hopeful that they could quickly follow the Razoni, possibly moving in small convoys across the Black Sea. They are estimating that at least 20 million metric tonnes of grain are stored and ready for shipment while the country is also preparing for its next harvest. Reports said that Ukraine expects to harvest more than 69 million metric tonnes of grain and oilseed this year, down significantly from the 2021 harvest of 106 million metric tonnes.
In addition to meeting a critical food shortage, especially in the developing world, the exports will provide a critical source of foreign income for Ukraine. Minister of Infrastructure for Ukraine, Oleksandr Kubrakov estimated the exports would provide at least $1 billion in foreign exchange to the economy.
Razoni departed on the morning of August 1 (Turkish Defense Ministry)
IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim released a statement welcoming the departure from Odesa. “The immense work by the UN and the relevant parties has now come to fruition. IMO will continue to do everything to support safe and secure shipping and ensure the safety of seafarers,” said Lim.
The next test of the agreement will be when they attempt to begin sending new vessels to Ukraine after those waiting at the ports depart. Ship owners have expressed concern both about the cost and availability of insurance and the lack of crew with so many Ukraine seafarers having enlisted to fight the war. Forbes is reporting that the UN has already chartered a bulker that they hope to send to Odesa in the next few days. The World Food Program has purchased 30,000 metric tonnes of wheat which it plans to load on the vessel.
Track of the Razoni in the hours after departing Odesa bound for Istanbul on August 1 (courtesy of Pole Star)