Tuesday, 16 August, 2022

First grain shipment since Russian invasion leaves Ukraine

KYIV: The first shipment of Ukrainian grain since the Russian invasion in February left the port of Odessa on Monday morning under a landmark deal to lift Moscow's naval blockade in the Black Sea, reports AFP.

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, who brokered the plan along with Turkey, welcomed the announcement while Kyiv said it would bring "relief for the world" if Moscow held up its side of the accord.

The five-month halt of deliveries from war-torn Ukraine -- one of the world's biggest grain exporters -- has contributed to soaring food prices, hitting the world's poorest nations especially hard.

Officials said the Razoni cargo ship, registered in Sierra Leone, was making its way through a specially cleared corridor in the mine-infested waters of the Black Sea with 26,000 tonnes of maize on board.

"It is expected in Istanbul on August 2. It will then continue its journey after it has been inspected in Istanbul," the Turkish foreign minister said in a statement.

Other convoys would follow, respecting the maritime corridor and the agreed formalities, the statement said.

Last month, Ukraine and Russia signed the breakthrough pact -- the first signficant accord involving the warring sides since the invasion -- with Turkey and the United Nations aimed at getting millions of tonnes of trapped Ukrainian grain to world markets.

But Russian strikes on the Odessa port the day after the deal was signed sparked outrage from Ukraine's allies and cast doubt over the accord.

Guterres, according to a UN statement, "hopes that this will be the first of many commercial ships moving in accordance with the initiative signed, and that this will bring much-needed stability and relief to global food security, especially in the most fragile humanitarian contexts".      "Ensuring that existing grain and foodstuffs can move to global markets is a humanitarian imperative," he added.

Guterres also said that the World Food Programme was planning to "purchase, load and ship an initial 30,000 metric tons of wheat out of Ukraine on a UN-chartered vessel," and there would be further details in the coming days.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Monday marked a "day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, as the first Ukrainian grain leaves Odessa after months of Russian blockade."

The Kremlin on Monday hailed it as a "very positive" development and a "good opportunity to test the effectiveness of the mechanisms that were agreed during talks in Istanbul". The long-awaited consignment however is just the beginning of a backlog and Ukraine Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said 16 more ships were already "waiting for their turn" to leave Odessa.

"These are the ships that were blocked from the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion," he said, adding that new requests for ships to dock and load were coming continuously.