ISTANBUL (AP) — Three more ships carrying thousands of tons of corn left Ukrainian ports Friday, sailing in mined waters to face inspection of their delayed cargo, a sign that an international deal on grain exports was holding up since Russia invaded Ukraine walked slowly forward. But there are major obstacles ahead get food to the countries that need it most.
The ships bound for Ireland, Great Britain and Turkey follow the first shipment of grain to pass through the Black Sea since the start of the war. The passage of that vessel bound for Lebanon earlier this week was the first under groundbreaking agreement mediator of Turkey and the UN with Russia and Ukraine.
The first ships to leave are among more than a dozen bulk carriers and cargo ships that were loaded months ago but held in ports since Russia invaded in late February. While the resumed shipments have raised hopes of easing a global food crisis, much of the backed-up cargo is for animal feed, not for human consumption, experts say.
The Black Sea region is named the breadbasket of the worldwith Ukraine and Russia important global suppliers of wheat, corn, barley and sunflower oil that millions of poor people in AfricaThe Middle East and parts of Asia rely on to survive.
However, the first shipments are not expected to have a significant impact on the global price of corn, wheat and soybeans. Initially exports under the agreement have begun slowly and cautiously due to the threat of explosive mines floating off Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.
And while Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat to developing countries, other countries, such as the United States and Canada, are involved much larger production levels that could affect global wheat prices. And they face threat of drought.
“Ukraine is about 10% of the international trade in wheat, but in terms of production it is not even 5%,” said David Laborde, an expert on agriculture and trade at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.
The three ships that departed Friday were accompanied by Ukrainian pilot ships for safe passage due to explosive mines strewn in the Black Sea. The vessels sailed with over 58,000 tonnes of maize, but this is still a fraction of 20 million tons of grain that Ukraine says is trapped in the country’s silos and ports and to be sailed out to make room for this year’s harvest.
About 6 million tons of the captured grain is wheat, but only half of that is for human consumption, Laborde said.
There is an expectation that Ukraine may produce 30% to 40% less grain over the next 12 months because of the war, although other estimates put that number at 70%.
Grain prices peaked after Russia’s invasion, and although some have since come down to their pre-war levels, they are still higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Corn prices are 70% higher than at the end of February 2020, said Jonathan Haines, senior analyst at data and analytics firm Gro Intelligence. He said wheat prices are about 60% higher than in February 2020.
“When fertilizer prices are high, farmers can use less fertilizer. And when they use less fertilizer, they will produce less. And if they want to produce less, the supply will continue to remain insufficient,” said Laborde.
The three ships that left Ukraine on Friday give hope that exports will increase to developing countries, where many face 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 ease global supply constraints.”
The Turkish-flagged Polarnet, carrying 12,000 tons of corn, left Chornomorsk port bound for Karasu, Turkey. The Panama-flagged Navi Star left Odessa port for Ireland with 33,000 tons of corn. The Maltese-flagged Rojen left Chornomorsk for Britain with over 13,000 tonnes of maize, the UN said.
It added that the Joint Coordination Center – run by officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations, which oversees the agreement signed in Istanbul last month – approved the three ships and inspected a ship bound for Ukraine. The Barbados-flagged Fulmar S was inspected in Istanbul and is on its way to Chornomorsk port.
The control seeks to ensure that outgoing cargo ships only transport grain, fertilizer or foodstuffs and not other goods, and that incoming ships do not carry 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, Friday. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the meeting would allow Putin and Erdogan to review the implementation of the grain deal and discuss the prospects for negotiations to end the fighting in Ukraine.
In other cases Friday, Ukraine’s presidential office said at least eight civilians were killed and 16 others wounded in the latest Russian shelling.
The eastern Donetsk region has faced the most intensive Russian barrage for weeks. Donetsk Governor Pavlo Kyrylenko repeated his call for all residents to evacuate.
“Shooting and bombings are going on around the clock, and people who refuse to evacuate risk being killed on their pillows,” Kyrylenko said in televised remarks.
In Ukraine’s second largest city, Kharkiv, three districts have been subjected to massive shelling. Several apartment buildings and a street market were damaged and three people were injured.
Russian shelling also targeted the city of Zaporizhzhia and several frontline towns in the region. For the second day in a row, the Russians also shelled the city of Nikopol, which faces the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant on the other side of the Dnieper River. Dozens of houses were damaged.
The Russians also hit the southern city of Mykolaiv. The regional governor, Vitaliy Kim, said Russian forces fired on the town after lunchtime, causing extensive damage, killing an unspecified number of people and wounding at least nine. He said the fire came from Kherson, the Russian-held city about 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the southeast.
Batrawy reported from Dubai.