A grain shipment has left the port of Odesa for the first time in months, in a crucial test of a deal between Russia and Ukraine aimed at easing rising global food prices.
The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni, carrying 26,000 tons of Ukrainian corn, left the Black Sea port at 9:48 a.m. local time, the infrastructure ministry said, following weeks of negotiations brokered by Turkey and the UN. Turkey’s defense ministry, which led the negotiations that produced last month’s grain deal, said the Razoni would take its cargo to the port of Tripoli in Lebanon.
It is the first such ship to leave Odesa since late February, when Russia invaded Ukraine. The Russian navy blockaded Ukraine’s commercial sea routes, launched missile attacks on its ports and grain storage infrastructure, and attacked civilian ships transporting grain.
The ship was due to arrive in Istanbul on Tuesday, according to a statement from the Joint Coordination Center established as part of the UN-led grain deal.
After arriving in Turkey’s largest city, he was expected to undergo checks at the center, which has Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials as part of the so-called Black Sea Cereals Initiative .
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hailed it as a “day of relief” for major importers of Ukrainian grain, especially in the Middle East and Asia, and the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv he said he was looking forward to the “continued implementation” of the agreement.
The Kremlin said on Monday that the ship’s departure was “extremely positive” news. Dmitri Peskov, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said the resumption of commercial maritime traffic in the Black Sea is “a good opportunity to test the effectiveness of how the mechanisms work” under an agreement signed in Istanbul to allow Ukraine export grain
“We hope that all agreements will be fulfilled from all sides and that the mechanism will work effectively,” Peskov said, according to the Interfax news agency.
Another 16 ships are awaiting departure, the Ukrainian government said, carrying a small fraction of the more than 22 million tons of wheat, corn and other grains left in the country. The conflict has left up to 47 million people worldwide at risk of acute hunger, according to the World Food Programme.
The remaining 16 ships were stuck in Odesa and nearby ports after the Russian invasion in late February. Ukraine said it was starting to accept requests for new ships to pick up grain and expected to reach capacity within weeks.
But ship owners entering Odesa are still working through the logistics of securing their ships, cargo and personnel, which was complicated by Russian missile attacks on the port late last month, which injured several people.
Private international operators are in a “wait and watch” mode, a person familiar with the matter said, as many ships have long been reassigned to different routes.
Russia claimed to have struck military infrastructure and sunk a Ukrainian navy ship, while Ukraine said the attack, a day after the agreement was signed, would jeopardize or delay the agreement’s implementation of exports.
Long known as the breadbasket of Europe, Ukraine is the world’s fifth largest grain exporter. It accounts for 80% of Lebanon’s wheat imports and is a major supplier to countries such as Somalia, Syria and Libya.