Dry CargoEurope

Recapturing of Snake Island opens new grain export routes for Ukraine

With Ukraine taking back the strategically important Snake Island at the end of last month, alternate grain export routes are opening up.

The island was taken over by Russian forces on the first day of the war on February 24, but has since been retaken. Situated about 70 nautical miles south of Odesa it is strategically important, controlling access to southern waterways, allowing inland shipments to proceed, even if Ukraine’s coastal ports all remain off limits.

Ukrainian officials said this week that eight foreign vessels have arrived to take agricultural products overseas, with the Ukrainian navy involved to ensure safe passage.

Vessels can now tranship through the Bystroe Canal giving Ukrainian exports another link between the Danube and the Black Sea and relieving some of the congestion seen on the Sulina Canal, which also links the two waterways.

The port of Reni, 54 miles upstream on the northern branch of the Danube, has been reactivated and is seeing many vessel calls this week. The problem for the port is its draft – at just 3.8 m it is very limited. Nevertheless Reni and other inland ports can tranship cargo by barge into Romania for onward transport.

As Russia’s blockade on the Black Sea continues, it is estimated that 22m tonnes of last year’s Ukrainian grain crop still cannot reach their destinations.

Other export options are opening up for Ukraine, which is now harvesting this year’s grain crop with insufficient storage. Splash reported last week that Romania has reopened a Soviet-era rail link connecting its Danube River port of Galati to Ukraine a month earlier than originally planned.

Grain cargoes coming from Ukraine via Moldova can reach Galati directly to be transferred onto barges and then further, including to the Black Sea port of Constanta.

Constanta has been an important hub for Ukrainian cargoes in the opening months of the war, however, it is now operating at full capacity, both for dry bulk and containers.

Meanwhile, a port in landlocked Moldova located at the confluence of Danube and Prut rivers, is showing dramatically increased cargo volumes in the wake of war.

Giurgiulesti Port, Moldova’s only commercial access to international waters, has reported cargo volumes have more than doubled to more than 800,000 tons in the first half of the year, mainly due to increasing imports of petroleum oil products, coal and fertiliser and exports of grains and vegetable oil. Construction of a new $5m terminal is now underway, due to open in the second half of next year.

Bulgaria’s Black Sea port of Varna is also positioning itself to take some of the load from Ukraine. With Constanta filling up, shippers are making more enquiries about using Varna in recent weeks.

Like in Romania, the government of Bulgaria has simplified cross-border rules for trucks carrying Ukrainian import and export cargoes.

Further north, ports in Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea are also taking some Ukrainian agri-products to international markets, developing a transit corridor from Ukraine which bypasses Belarus.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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