The grain corridor has been open for 43 days, during which more than 2.37 million tons of agricultural products were exported from three Ukrainian seaports. Not only Ukrainian grain but also vegetable oil is transported by sea under the Black Sea Grain Initiative that established a humanitarian maritime corridor to allow ships to export grain, other foodstuffs, and fertilizers from Ukraine. If the current pace is maintained and provided that Russia does not obstruct the operation of the corridor, the ports of Greater Odesa, together with the Danube ports and the railway crossings on Ukraine’s western borders, will theoretically be able to meet the existing demand for the export of Ukrainian grain. Meanwhile, the issue of maritime export of the mining and metals industry’s products, which also generate significant state budget revenues, remains problematic.
Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Infrastructure Yurii Vaskov discusses the departure of the first ship, the main problems and risks associated with the operation of the maritime grain corridor, and the possibility of exporting other types of cargoes through the corridor in an interview, taken by the CFTS portal late August.
On the departure of the first ship
When we realized we needed to perform a test run, we looked at the readiness of the ships. Firstly, not all ships had the required number of crew members and some still do not. Secondly, it was important for us to send the first vessel on the longest available route to ensure its safety. Therefore, it was decided that the Razoni ship would be the first to depart from the port of Odesa.
At the moment, we already have a positive experience in the three ports, i.e., we have technically proven that we are ready to receive and send ships. Practically all the terminals are working. The port services and related enterprises necessary for agricultural exports are also working. Without exaggeration, all our colleagues worked around the clock in Ukraine and Turkey to make the initiative work.
In the 25 days in which the grain corridor has been in operation, 40 bulk carriers transporting over 880,000 tons of agricultural products have left the ports and 25 vessels have entered for loading. That means that as of today, we can say that the Grain Initiative is part of the systematic phase of operations at the three ports in Greater Odesa.
On the work of the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul
Ukraine is represented by both military and civilian personnel. From our side, the civilians are currently representatives of the Ukrainian Seaports Authority (USPA). Their primary function is to receive ship processing plans from Ukrainian ports, organize inspections in Turkish territorial waters, and subsequently monitor the movement of vessels in accordance with the coordinates of the humanitarian corridor to Ukrainian ports and back.
On the main problem with the corridor’s operation and risks
I would say the main problem is the high freight rate. This results in our farmers receiving lower payments for their products. Nevertheless, it is much more profitable to work through the ports of Greater Odesa than through the Danube. We hope that more ships will be willing to enter Ukrainian ports with every safe ship call and that the freight rate will fall accordingly. This will have a positive effect on the incomes of our farmers and the Ukrainian economy in general. I think that this issue will be resolved commercially soon.
Regarding the risks, any military escalation related to the ports or ships jeopardizes the existence of this initiative. We hope that this will not happen. We are counting on our partners - the United Nations and Turkey - who are some sort of security guarantors.
Yurii Vaskov (left), Minister of Infrastructure Oleksandr Kubrakov and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in the port of Odesa
We are receiving applications daily. Currently, there are 60 applications for the next few weeks. The number of willing ships increases with the passage of each ship. The sequence of passage of ships through the corridor is determined based on port operators’ ship processing plans.
We see that the insurance terms are improving with each ship call. Several international organizations and insurance companies are facilitating this. However, it is a completely commercial market and we, as a state, do not participate in it. We only request help and simplification of the insurance terms.
On Ukrainian sailors and ship crews
We have no problems regarding the departure of Ukrainian sailors from Ukraine aboard ships. There is an unresolved issue regarding how sailors working in other countries can cross the border - on foot or by car - in order to secure employment abroad subsequently. By agreement with the State Border Service, there are no problems involving exit aboard ships from the Danube ports and the ports of Greater Odesa. Accordingly, there are no problems finding crews for the ships that are already in Ukrainian ports.
However, over 90% of our sailors do not travel abroad on ships. This issue is indeed very urgent, but the decision is still being discussed with the military and the government leadership.
On the possibility of exporting other types of goods
Export of metals or other types of cargoes within the framework of the Grain Initiative is currently not being discussed. The author of the Grain Initiative is the United Nations, and it is specifically about the export of agricultural products within the framework of food security.
We are certainly interested in restoring full operation of our ports and will initiate this at the earliest opportunity.