International Ships Avoid Russians to Reach Ukraine’s Danube Seaports

Izmail, Ukraine
Izmail on the Danube is receiving the first international ships since Russia launched its blockade (Yuriy Kvach - CC BY-SA 4.0)

Published Aug 1, 2023 3:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

Ukrainian officials are highlighting that several internationally-owned ships appear to have successfully avoided Russian efforts to stop the shipment of grain, crossing the Black Sea heading for its port on the Danube. They would be the first international ships to reach Ukraine since Russia ended the grain export agreement and began its efforts to blockade Ukraine’s ports.

Speaking during Russia’s Navy Day celebration last weekend, Vladimir Putin touted the success of the navy including highlighting the efforts aimed at stopping grain exports. He said the port blockade was effective and noted that global grain prices had started to rise. Russia has publicly said it would only rejoin the grain agreement until it was reinstated to the global financial systems to make its exports of grain and fertilizer possible.

The UK warned a week ago that it believed Russia was beginning to mine the approaches to Ukraine’s seaports. This came as both Russia and Ukraine said they would now consider merchant ships possible enemy combatants making them targets and as Russia stepped up its attacks on Odesa and surrounding ports.

An Israeli-owned smaller general cargo ship is being reported as the first vessel to openly flaunt the restrictions crossing the Black Sea. The 3,670 dwt AMS 1 registered in Sierra Leone sailed from Ashdod, Israel arriving in the Ukrainian Danube seaport of Izmail on July 31. There were no reports of the vessel meeting any resistance and observers noted that the U.S. and NATO had observation planes over the Black Sea possibly watching the progress of the merchant ship.

Ukraine’s Ministry of the Interior is citing several other smaller general cargo ships owned by Israeli, Turkish, and Greek interests that also appear to have been able to proceed across the Black Sea without any direct interference. The 3,220 dwt Sahin 2 registered in Vanuatu sailed from Souda, Georgia, and is now waiting off Izmail, while several other vessels including the Sealock (1,385 dwt) registered in Tanzania are waiting in the anchorage. The Sealock’s AIS signal shows it heading to Izmail.

In addition, two other ships are being reported among the first heading back into Ukraine. The Afer (5,000 dwt) registered in Panama left Haifa and its AIS shows its destination as Sulina, Romania. Similarly, the Trukish-owned Vilmaz Kaptan (1,600 dwt) registered in Vanuatu left the Georgian port of Poti and is now in the anchor with Ukraine saying it is due to call in Izmail although its AIS shows Galati, Romania as its destination.

These would be the first ships to arrive in the Danube seaports since July 24 when Russia attacked the port. The ports of Remi and Izmail lying near the border with Romania were hit by missiles and drones with damage to the port infrastructure and warehouses as well as reports of minor damage to a Romanian-flagged ship. Port officials in Romania permitted some of the ships in the area to move to the Romanian side of the river bank.

Since the end of the grain export agreement, Ukraine has said it would be developing alternatives to move its products. At the end of July, Romania indicated that its ports would be available to increase the amount of Ukraine grain exports. Yesterday, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Ukraine and Croatia had also "agreed on the possibility" of transporting Ukrainian produce via the Danube and Croatian seaports. Ukraine has also looked at using railroads to move the grain to the west or possibly through Poland, but adding the Danube seaports would be another step toward expanding export volumes.

Top photo by Yuriy Kvach (CC BY-SA 4.0)