KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine is considering using its newly tested wartime Black Sea export corridor for grain shipments, a senior agricultural official said on Monday, after the first successful evacuation of a ship along the route last week.
Russia has imposed a blockade of Ukrainian ports since it invaded its neighbor in February 2022, and has threatened to treat all ships as potential military targets after withdrawing from a UN-backed safe passage agreement for grain exports in the Black Sea last month.
In response, Ukraine announced a “humanitarian corridor” that hugs the western coast of the Black Sea near Romania and Bulgaria. A Hong Kong-flagged container ship stuck in the port of Odessa since the invasion crossed the road last week without being fired on.
“So far only one commercial vessel has passed, (and this) showed willingness to move by alternative routes,” Denis Marchuk, deputy head of the Agrarian Council, Ukraine’s largest agricultural trade group, told national television.
“Furthermore, there should be a move of possibly 7-8 more ships… Then maybe in the future these alternative routes will become a corridor for the movement of ships traveling with cargoes of grain and oilseeds,” he said.
The British Financial Times, citing Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Economy Oleksandr Ghariban, said that Kiev was finalizing a scheme with international insurance companies to cover grain ships traveling to and from its ports on the Black Sea.
Ukraine is one of the world’s largest grain producers and exporters, normally shipping millions of metric tons of food from its deep Black Sea ports of Odessa and Mykolaiv.
But Ukraine has had to rely on the ports of the Danube Delta in the country’s southwestern corner since Russia abandoned its role in the safe passage agreement a year ago.
To attract shipowners to Ukrainian ports that have come under fire from Russian forces, Marchuk said Ukraine has already allocated 20 billion hryvnia ($547 million) for ship insurance.
However, Mykola Gorbachev, head of the Ukrainian Grain Traders Union UGA, said that despite the mechanism to compensate for potential losses, he doubted that many shipowners were willing to build the temporary slipways.
“In particular, it takes at least two to three days to load a ship in the major ports of Odessa. If during this time the port infrastructure is again subjected to enemy attacks, there is a risk of damage to ships and cargo.” he said in a statement.
Gorbachev said it would be advisable to find a mechanism to ensure the security of civilian ships in temporary passages by, for example, providing military escorts.
“NATO ships will be able to respond to threats, including missile attacks on port infrastructure,” he said.
($1 = 36.5600 hryvnia)
Reporting by Pavel Politiuk. Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Mark Heinrichs
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