UN Expects Ukraine's Grain Exports to Pick Up Pace

ships moving out of Ukraine ports with grain exports
UN's priority is clearing vessels that were stranded in the ports in February (Saviano Abreu photo courtesy of OCHA)

Published Aug 11, 2022 2:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

UN officials said on Wednesday that the humanitarian corridor set up to move Ukrainian grain is off to a good start as they prepare to increase the number of vessels moving out of and into the three ports in Ukraine. In just over a week, the UN reports that a total of 14 ships have been authorized for travel on the corridor with 12 outbound carrying more than 375,00 metric tons with the volumes expected to increase.

After running two proof of concept trips and discussing the procedures with the ships’ crew and the team at the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul, a set of protocols has now been established and agreed to with both representatives of Russia and Ukraine. They established a 10-mile protected route for the ships to follow into and out of Ukraine with guarantees for the safety of the vessels.

 “We’re expecting to see a big uptick in applications for transit,” said Frederick Kenney, interim U.N. Coordinator at the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul, in a video press conference on Wednesday. He said he was confident that they were on track to meet the goal of moving a minimum of two million metric tonnes per month with a maximum of five million tonnes. The agreement lasts for 120 days and although the UN has said it is confident it will be extended, they are anxious to move as much as possible out of the Ukrainian warehouses.

Kennedy said that part of their focus was on moving those vessels stranded in the three ports covered by the initiative when the war started. So far it has been a rag-tag assortment of ships registered in places ranging from Turkey and Liberia to the Marshall Islands, Panama, Malta and Sierra Leone. The largest vessels were the 66,000 dwt bulker Glory that departed on August 7 and the 64,000 dwt Ocean Lion on August 9 both sailing from Chornomorsk. Several of the first shipments have gone to Turkey while others have gone to the UK, Ireland, Italy, China, and South Korea. The cargo has mostly consisted of corn but also includes sunflower oil, sunflower meal, and soybeans.

The detailed procedures for participating vessels to follow were “disseminated to the shipping industry earlier this week,” Kennedy told reporters. He said that they have been receiving strong interest from shipping companies with numerous vessels waiting off Turkey to confirm contracts and for port space to be made available in Ukraine. “Our priority is to free up pier space in those ports so that the vessels come in and take new cargo,” he continued. So far four ships have been given permission to sail to Ukraine with the first two having arrived in Chornomorsk and beginning to load.

The most visible glitch in the system came when the buyer in Lebanon for the first cargo rejected it on reported concerns over quality. UN officials stressed that it was not uncommon for cargoes to change destinations and they were not concerned by this development. The Sierra Leone-flagged bulker Razoni has returned to Turkey and reports indicated that the cargo has been resold to Turkish buyers. The UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric however responded to reporters’ questions by saying that the UN could find no evidence that a discount is being provided to Turkey as part of the agreement that has Turkey overseeing the JCC and export of Ukrainian grain.

“We still have much work ahead of us to ensure that the implementation of the initiative translates into real results to address food insecurity around the globe and to stabilize global food markets,” concluded Kennedy. However, he added, “we are off with a very good start.”