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Black Sea grain shipments under threat as Russia walks away from UN deal

Dry bulk watchers are keeping a close eye on vessels heading in and out of the Black Sea today to see if shipments of Ukrainian grain can carry on unpeturbed despite Russia’s decision to walk away from a regional shipping agreement.

Over the weekend Russia pulled out of the United Nations-backed deal to allow Ukrainian grain exports from Black Sea ports following drone attacks against its naval fleet in Crimea.

The country’s foreign ministry said that Ukrainian armed forces “under the cover of the humanitarian corridor” launched “massive air and sea strikes” on Saturday using drones against ships and infrastructure of the Russian Black Sea Fleet at the naval base in Sevastopol on the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula.

“The Russian side can no longer guarantee the safety of civilian dry cargo ships participating in the Black Sea Grain Initiative and will suspend its implementation from today for an indefinite period. The corresponding instructions have been issued to Russian representatives in the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul, which is in charge of the transportation of Ukrainian food products,” the Russian ministry said in a statement.

Moscow added that British specialists helped Ukraine’s military carry out the attack, after earlier accusing its navy personnel of blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last month. London has dismissed the accusations, with the UK Ministry of Defence saying Russia was “peddling false claims of an epic scale”.

Ukraine’s ministry of infrastructure said 403 ships containing 9.1m tons of products for Asia, Europe and Africa had left the Ukrainian ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi since the Black Sea Grain Initiative was brokered in July. The deal was due to expire in the second half of November and talks were underway to renew it.

The European Union on Sunday called on Russia to reverse its decision, with its foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, saying the move “puts at risk the main export route of much needed grain and fertilisers to address the global food crisis caused by its war against Ukraine.” 

Ukraine government official Dmytro Kuleba said Russia had planned this well in advance. “By suspending its participation in the grain deal on a false pretext of explosions 220 km away from the grain corridor, Russia blocks 2m tons of grain on 176 vessels already at sea — enough to feed over 7m people,” he said on Twitter. 

The UN reported that nine vessels safely passed through three corridors of the Black Sea Grain initiative on October 29 with more than 10 vessels both outbound and inbound waiting to enter the corridor, adding there was no deal between the parties for the movement of vessels on October 30.

Data from shipping platform Sea/ showed just one bulk carrier departure from Ukraine on Sunday with another six ships in transit heading to Ukraine today and tomorrow. 

The UN, Türkiye and Ukraine said on Sunday they will carry on moving grain as per the August agreement, but shipowners and insurers will be extremely wary of the increased security threat in the region. 

The UN said in a statement that it had agreed with Ukraine and Türkiye on a movement plan for 16 vessels on Monday – 12 outbound and four inbound. Plans are also in place to inspect 40 ships outbound vessels today. 

The end of the deal is likely to tighten grain supplies again globally as Ukraine and Russia together accounted for over 25% of global wheat exports and 10% of the world’s corn shipments.

Adis Ajdin

Adis is an experienced news reporter with a background in finance, media and education. He has written across the spectrum of offshore energy and ocean industries for many years and is a member of International Federation of Journalists. Previously he had written for Navingo media group titles including Offshore Energy, Subsea World News and Marine Energy.
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