3 more ships, including a vessel flying the Maltese flag, leave Ukraine with grain under a UN agreement
Three more ships carrying thousands of tons of grain left Ukrainian ports on Friday and traveled through mined waters to inspect their delayed cargo, a sign that an international grain export deal that has kept until since Russia invaded Ukraine it has been slow going. But there are big obstacles ahead for the food to reach the countries that need it the most.
The ships bound for Ireland, the United Kingdom and Turkey follow the first grain shipment that has passed through the Black Sea since the beginning of the war. The passage of that ship that is going to Lebanon earlier this week was the first one under the innovative agreement that was sent by Turkey and the United Nations with Russia and Ukraine.
The first ships to leave are among more than a dozen bulk carriers and cargo ships loaded months ago but stuck in ports since Russia invaded in late February. While the shipments have revived hopes of easing a global food crisis, most of the goods supported are for animal feed, not for people to eat, experts say.
The Black Sea region is called the breadbasket of the world, with Ukraine and Russia the main global suppliers of wheat, maize, barley and sunflower oil that millions of poor people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia depend on them for survival.
However, the initial shipments are not expected to have a significant impact on the global price of wheat, corn and soybeans. To begin with, exports under the agreement started slowly and cautiously due to the threat of explosive mines floating off the coast of the Black Sea of Ukraine.
And while Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat to developing nations, there are other countries, such as the United States and Canada, with much larger production levels that can affect global wheat prices. And they face the threat of drought.
“Ukraine is about 10% of the international grain trade, but in terms of production not even 5%,” said David Laborde, an expert on agriculture and trade at the International Institute for Research on the -Food Politics in Washington.
The three ships that left on Friday were accompanied by Ukrainian pilot ships for safe passage due to explosive mines scattered in the Black Sea. The ships left with more than 58,000 tons of grain, but this is still a fraction of the 20 million tons of grain that Ukraine says are trapped in the country’s silos and ports and that must be sent abroad to make room for this year’s harvest.
About 6 million tons of the grain seized is wheat, but only half is for human consumption, Laborde said.
There is an expectation that Ukraine could produce 30% to 40% less grain over the next 12 months because of the war, although other estimates put that figure at 70%.
Wheat prices peaked after the Russian invasion, and while some have since fallen to pre-war levels, they are still higher than before the COVID pandemic -19. Corn prices are 70% higher than at the end of February 2020, said Jonathan Haines, senior analyst at data and analysis firm Gro Intelligence. He said that wheat prices are about 60% higher than those of February 2020.
One reason prices remain high is the impact of drought on harvests in North America, China and other regions, as well as the higher price of fertilizer needed for farming.
“When fertilizer prices are high, farmers can use less fertilizer. And when they use less fertilizer, they will produce less. And if they produce less, the supply will remain insufficient,” said Laborde.
The three ships that left Ukraine on Friday give hope that exports will increase to developing nations, where many are facing the increased threat of food shortages and starvation.
“The movement of three additional vessels overnight is a very positive sign and will continue to build confidence that we are moving in the right direction,” Haines said. “If the flow of grain from Ukraine continues to expand, it will help to ease global supply constraints.”
The Turkish-flagged Polarnet, carrying 12,000 tonnes of maize, left the port of Chornomorsk destined for Karasu, Turkey. The Panamanian-flagged Navi Star left the port of Odesa for Ireland with 33,000 tons of corn. The Rojen, which had a Maltese flag, left Chornomorsk for the United Kingdom carrying more than 13,000 tons of wheat, the UN said.
It added that the Joint Coordination Center — led by officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the UN who oversaw the agreement signed in Istanbul last month — authorized the three ships and inspected ship that was going to Ukraine. The Barbados-flagged Fulmar S has been inspected in Istanbul and is heading to the port of Chornomorsk.
Controls seek to ensure that outbound cargo ships only carry grain, fertilizer or food and not any other commodities and that inbound ships are not carrying weapons.
After Turkey helped broker the food deal two weeks ago, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, on Friday.
In a statement after the talks that lasted four hours, Putin and Erdogan emphasized “the need for full implementation of the agreement package reached in Istanbul… including the unhindered export of Russian grain and fertilizers. “
In other developments on Friday, Ukraine’s presidential office said at least eight civilians were killed and 16 others wounded in the latest Russian bombing.
The eastern region of Donetsk has been facing the most intensive Russian barrage for weeks. Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko repeated his appeal for all residents to evacuate.
“Shelling and shelling are going on 24 days, and people who refuse to evacuate risk being killed on their pillows,” Kyrylenko said in televised remarks.
In Ukraine’s second largest city of Kharkiv, three districts were hit by a massive earthquake. Several apartment buildings and a street market were damaged, and three people were injured.
Russian airstrikes also targeted the city of Zaporizhzhia and several towns along the front line in the region. For the second day in a row, the Russians also captured the city of Nikopol which faces the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant across the Dnieper River. Dozens of houses were damaged.
Energoatom, which operates Ukraine’s nuclear plants, said three shells landed in the evening on the territory of the Zaporizhzhia plant, which is the largest in Europe. No casualties or damage to the reactors were reported.
“This is an open and daring crime, an act of terror,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his video address in the evening.
The Russians also hit the southern city of Mykolaiv. The regional governor, Vitaliy Kim, said Russian forces fired on the town after lunch, causing extensive damage, killing an unspecified number of people and wounding at least nine. He said the fires came from the direction of Kherson, the Russian-occupied city about 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the southeast.