First grain ship leaves Ukraine: What, where and why it matters

Departure of vessel carrying 26,000 metric tonnes of corn raises hopes of easing growing global food crisis.

Cargo ship Razoni departs from port of Odesa in Ukraine
Cargo ship Razoni departs from port of Odesa, Ukraine [Metin Aktaş/Anadolu]

A vessel carrying Ukrainian grain has left the Black Sea port of Odesa for the first time since Russia’s invasion in late February.

The long-awaited development on Monday came after the United Nations and Turkey brokered an agreement between Russia and Ukraine last month. It has raised hopes of easing a growing food crisis threatening people around the world.

Here is what you need to know:

What happened?

  • The Razoni, a Sierra Leone-flagged vessel, departed Odesa shortly after 06:00 GMT, according to the Turkish defence ministry.
  • Carrying more than 26,000 metric tonnes of corn, the Chinese-built ship’s final destination is Tripoli, northern Lebanon.
  • Data from the Razoni’s Automatic Identification System, a safety tracker for ships at sea, showed the vessel slowly coming out from its berth at Odesa alongside a tug boat.
  • The ship has been proceeding very slowly due to the presence of mines in the Black Sea which were placed by Ukrainian forces to prevent the Russian army from advancing towards Odesa from the sea.
  • The loading of the ship was monitored by Ukrainian, Turkish and UN staff.

Where is the vessel going?

  • The vessel is expected to reach Istanbul at 12:00 GMT on Tuesday, where it will be inspected by personnel of the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC), comprising representatives of Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the UN. After the inspection, it will proceed to reach Tripoli.

INTERACTIVE- First grain shipment leaves Ukraine

Why is this important?

  • Ukraine and Russia are the world’s largest exporters of grain in the world, but the war caused a de facto blockade of the Black Sea.
  • This resulted in Ukraine’s exports dropping to one-sixth of their pre-war level, while grain prices spiked.
  • According to the UN’s World Food Programme, some 47 million people are now in a stage of “acute hunger” due to the fallout from the war.
  • The deal signed last month on reopening blocked Black Sea delivery routes to export grain and other agricultural goods is aimed at helping to avert famine by injecting more wheat, sunflower oil, fertiliser and other products into world markets, including for humanitarian needs. It targets the pre-war level of 5 million metric tonnes of grain exported each month.
  • Ukraine Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the shipments would provide at least $1bn in foreign exchange revenue to the economy and an opportunity for the agricultural sector to plan for next year.

What has been the reaction?

  • Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba hailed the departure of the first shipment of grain as a “relief for the world”.
  • Similarly, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the development as “very positive” news, calling it “a good opportunity to test the effectiveness of the mechanisms that were agreed during talks in Istanbul”, referring to the deal reached last month on resuming exports from the latter’s Black Sea ports.
  • For its part, the UN said in a statement Secretary-General Antonio Guterres hopes it will be just the first of many commercial ships carrying Ukrainian grain abroad and bringing “much-needed stability and relief to global food security especially in the most fragile humanitarian contexts”.

What is next?

  • Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry said 16 more ships were waiting their turn in the port of Odesa.
  • Last month’s deal is valid for 120 days and will be automatically renewed unless the war ends. It involves the ports of Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.
  • Turkey’s presidential spokesperson said on Sunday the agreement could pave the way for a peace deal between the warring parties.
  • Russian forces have attacked areas in Odesa region three times since the grain export deal was signed – the latest reported shelling was on Sunday, raising fears over future attacks.
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies