Ship carrying grain leaves Odessa, Ukraine to ease food crisis

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ODESSA, Ukraine — The first grain-carrying ship left a Ukrainian port on Monday morning as part of a United Nations-brokered deal to ease a global food crisis sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The departure of the corn-laden cargo ship from Odessa came despite fears that the deal, signed in Istanbul in late July, could collapse after a recent Russian attack on the port.

The honk of a Ukrainian tug’s horn signaled the departure of the Razoni, a Sierra Leonean-flagged bulk carrier which began the voyage at 9:30 a.m. local time. The ship was destined for Lebanon, according to the Turkish Defense Ministry.

Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said in a message on twitter that the ship was the first to leave the port of Odessa since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February. A Russian naval blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports has halted grain exports, contributing to global food shortages.

“Thanks to the support of all our partner countries and @UN, we were able to fully implement the agreement signed in Istanbul,” Kubrakov tweeted on Monday morning.

Russia and Ukraine were among the world’s leading producers and exporters of grain, cooking oil and fertilizer before Moscow’s invasion. Last year, Ukraine accounted for 10% of global wheat exports, according to the United Nations.

With more than 20 million tonnes of grain from last year’s harvest stuck in storage, resuming shipments by sea is a top priority for the Ukrainian government. But the Russian blockade has forced grain sellers to use alternatives, including river ports or expensive overland routes, which have delayed deliveries.

The July 22 agreement signed in Turkey guarantees the safe passage of commercial vessels from Odessa and two other Ukrainian ports. Scheduled to remain in force for 120 days, it relies on the monitoring of maritime corridors designated by delegations from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations in Istanbul.

Turkey and the UN negotiated negotiations for months amid disputes over the terms of the deal, including security guarantees demanded by Ukraine. A Russian missile strike on the port of Odessa less than 24 hours after the deal was struck threatened to scuttle it.

“Ensuring that existing grains and foodstuffs can get to global markets is a humanitarian imperative,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement welcoming Razoni’s departure.

The Istanbul Coordination Center said in a statement that it had agreed on “specific coordinates and restrictions” along the maritime corridor and “requested all its participants to inform their respective military” and other authorities to ensure the safe passage of the Razoni.

The ship, he added, was carrying more than 26,000 tonnes of maize and was due to arrive in Turkish territorial waters on Tuesday. After inspection in Turkey, it would continue to Lebanon, according to the statement.

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