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UN Expresses Disappointment as Ships Exporting Ukrainian Grain Dwindle

Ukraine gain exports
UN Secretary-General is expressing his disappointment as the pace of grain exports slows (UN file photo)

Published Jun 21, 2023 2:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

The United Nations Secretary-General is expressing his disappointment while calling for new efforts to accelerate the export of grain from Ukraine. It is the latest sign, along with continuing statements from Russia on the failure of the effort, that the Black Sea grain export deal is falling apart. This comes as Ukraine completed its winter harvest and planted significant crops for the summer growing season.

“The Secretary-General calls on the parties to accelerate operations and urges them to do their utmost to ensure the continuation of this vital agreement, which is up for renewal on July 17,” UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said in a statement issued on June 20.

They cited the drop in the supply of essential foodstuffs to global markets, saying that the Secretary-General is “disappointed by the slowing pace of inspections and the exclusion of the port of Yuzhny/Pivdennyi from the Black Sea Initiative.” Food exports through the maritime humanitarian corridor the UN reports have dropped significantly from a peak of 4.2 million metric tonnes in October 2022 to 1.3 million metric tonnes in May, the lowest volume since the initiative began last year. 

Data from the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul shows that only 14 ships have been cleared to proceed inbound to Ukraine in June. Only one ship a day on June 20 and 21 were permitted to sail for Chornomorsk after no ships were cleared to proceed inbound on the two prior days. It is more than a week since a ship was permitted to sail to Odesa while no ships have proceeded to Yuzhny since the beginning of May.

A total of 33 ships departed Ukraine in June, carrying 1.5 million tons of foodstuffs. In most cases, it is only one departure a day this month and the JCC shows that eight ships that departed Ukraine in the past week are still awaiting inspections and clearance in Turkey before they can proceed. There have been frequent reports accusing the Russians of slowing the clearance process despite their agreement in May to extend the program till mid-July.

A spokesperson for the Kremlin Reuters reports said today that there are “no grounds" to extend the Black Sea grain deal. They cite the failure of the UN to influence Western countries to permit Russian exports. Russia is demanding restored access to the global financial systems for the exports and guarantees for its exports including ammonia for fertilizers.

The United Nations however asserts that it is “fully committed to supporting the implementation of both the Black Sea Initiative and the Memorandum of Understanding on Russian food and fertilizer exports.” 

Ukraine has said in the past that it has alternate plans if the Black Sea corridor agreement were to come to an end. Reports indicate that they have completed the harvest of winter barley. Reuters cites Ukrainian officials saying that almost 13 million hectares were planted this spring. While the war is expected to reduce output, they are projecting a harvest of around 45 million tons down from 53 million in 2022.

The UN says it is especially critical to continue and accelerate the efforts “now as the new grain harvest begins in both Ukraine and the Russian Federation.” Officially, the Black Sea agreement runs for nearly four more weeks till mid-July.