Russia is forced to increasingly rely on a "shadow fleet" of vessels for its grain exports. These are older vessels typically operated by companies based in Turkey and China, according to the Reuters news agency.
The CFTS portal reported this, citing the Liga Business publication.
Russia's lack of ships and Western grain traders' shrinking appetite for business with Moscow are adding to rising costs of moving Russian wheat, at a time when the war in Ukraine has spilled perilously close to vital Black Sea supply routes, Reuters said in a report. According to the report, Russia is aiming to export volumes of wheat that are near record highs, but the Russian-operated fleet of grain ships is well below its needs.
"The situation is raising doubts about whether Russia can keep up a record pace of exports and if not resolved could push global wheat prices higher," the news agency quoted sources as saying.
Russia's dissatisfaction with the Black Sea grain deal, from which it withdrew, was related to the difficulties Russian grain exporters had in dealing with Western counterparties - shipowners, insurers, and banks - which often refused to work with Russia. The Kremlin called these "hidden sanctions," although grain exports were not subject to direct European and U.S. sanctions.
According to Reuters sources, at least three major Western shipping groups said they stopped working with Russia after the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. In addition, some traders and insurers fear the ultimate beneficial owners of Russia's ports and terminals could be connected to sanctioned individuals, the news agency wrote.
An industry executive told Reuters that another risk was if a vessel needed to buy fuel from Russia, a situation the source said could create problems with Western sanctions enforcers, making it harder to then conduct non-Russian business.
Last year, Russia exported a record volume of wheat on ships chartered from international companies and traders, the Reuters report said. The situation began to change this summer. According to Reuters, global commodity houses are no longer helping Russia with the mechanics of trading its grain. Cargill, Louis Dreyfus, and Viterra stopped such work on 1 July, adding more pressure on Moscow to handle all aspects of grain deals including transport.
In a sign of Russia's growing hunt for vessels, its requests for charters doubled to 257 in July compared with the same month last year, according to data from maritime platform Shipfix that collates from hundreds of market participants. The requests for ships were up 40% from June, and they are likely to climb further as the export season gathers pace.
After the collapse of the grain deal, Russia began attacking Ukrainian ports. Sea-drone attacks on a Russian oil tanker and a warship at its Novorossiysk naval base, next door to a major grain and oil port, have added to these new dangers for transport in the Black Sea. This has caused a sharp increase in the insurance premiums for the transportation of Russian grain.
Insurance for ships heading to Russia's Black Sea ports currently costs tens of thousands of dollars in additional premiums daily, three sources told Reuters. Russia's Black Sea terminals handle about 70% of the country's grain exports.
The shipowners that are still willing to work with Russian Black Sea ports have also sharply raised their prices. According to a Reuters source, even before insurance, ship operators were charging up to USD 10,000 more daily for Russian cargoes than for cargoes leaving nearby ports in Bulgaria and Romania, as the collapse of the deal and Black Sea escalation weighed.
In December 2022, the Russian Federation announced plans to build a fleet of 61 new grain ships, citing "sanctions pressure and the refusal of many international carriers to cooperate with Russia." However, no orders have currently been reported for Russian companies either domestically or internationally, according to data from valuation company VesselsValue. New ships typically take up to three years to build.
Many of the Russian-operated current fleet of 31 mainly smaller dry bulk carriers are over 30 years old, VesselsValue data showed, making it harder to access some ports with stringent requirements for ships over a certain age. So, in the near future, the country will have to charter foreign vessels from those willing to work with it.