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First Grain Ship Departs Ukraine Challenging Russian Efforts to End Exports

grain ship departing Ukraine
Resilient Africa became the first bulker carrying grain to depart Chornomorsk in two months (Oleksandr Kubrakov/X)

Published Sep 19, 2023 2:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

The first bulker to load grain in the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk departed today as part of Ukraine’s continuing efforts to challenge the Russians and restore more of the grain exports after the end of the UN grain agreements in July. It comes at an important time for Ukraine as the summer harvest is underway which normally contributes a large portion of the country’s foreign trade.

The smaller of two grain ships that challenged the Russians and used the corridor set up by Ukraine departed loaded with 3,000 tons of wheat. The Resilient Africa, a 3,276 dwt vessel registered in Palau and owned by Turkish interest, has been traveling along the western coastline of the Black Sea since departing Chornomorsk early today, September 19. The vessel according to its AIS signal is making just over 7 knots and should shortly be crossing over into Romanian waters. The signal reflects the destination as Israel.

The vessel arrived in Ukraine on Saturday along with the larger Aroyat (18,315 dwt), which is still docked in Chornomorsk. Ukrainian officials said the second vessel is loading wheat that will be exported to Egypt.

Ukraine’s Vice Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov had hinted at the efforts to re-start exports using the humanitarian corridor established by the navy when the fifth cargo ship trapped since the start of the war broke out from Odesa. Previously, the corridor had only been used for departing ships but he said they were considering using it for grain exports.

It remains to be seen if other shipowners will attempt the same route to reach Ukraine with one of the challenges remaining gaining insurance for the trip. The Ukrainian government has been reaching out to the insurance industry and attempting to provide guarantees to attract new coverage for international bulkers to transit the Black Sea and resume exports. Another question is if mariners will be willing to crew the ships. Kubrakov said the Resilient Africa has a crew made up of sailors from Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine.

Despite reduced cultivation this season, Ukraine was expecting a strong crop of key staples including wheat, corn, and sunflower seeds. With the grain deal having ended in July, Ukraine has only been able to export limited amounts with farmers complaining that the warehouses are already full as the 2023 crop is harvested. Russia has been using its drones to attack the grain infrastructure and destroy portions of the stored crops.

Another four ships are expected to travel to Chornomorsk according to a report by Bloomberg citing an analyst from UkrAgroConsult. However, that is only a small volume compared to normal shipments. Both the United Nations and Turkey have appealed to Russia to institute a new grain export agreement to provide safe passage for commercial shipping to Ukraine’s seaports.

Ukraine is expanding exports from the Danube ports as well as using inland routes to send grain to the Romanian port of Constanta. They are also proposing to increase the use of barges and ship-to-ship transfers in Romania to increase the exports. Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister met last week with Romanian officials and representatives of the Western Allies to discuss efforts to expand grain exports.