After more than two months of difficult negotiations brokered by the United Nations and Turkey, an agreement was signed in Istanbul on Friday that lays the groundwork for the reopening of three Ukrainian Black Sea ports for critical shipments. UN officials said Russia and Ukraine have established things like relevant ports, the establishment of a monitoring center in Istanbul and ship inspection routines, with both sides agreeing not to. not attack or impede the movement of vessels.
“The initiative we just signed paves the way for significant volumes of commercial food exports from three key Ukrainian Black Sea ports, Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. . “Shipping grain and food stocks to world markets will help fill the global food supply gap and reduce pressure on high prices.”
UN officials said they plan to start working immediately to implement the initiative. Tomorrow, they will take the first steps to establish the Joint Coordination Center which will be located in Istanbul and which they believe will be the heart of the operation. Turkey played a key role in the negotiations as it maintained relations with Russia and Ukraine and offered to provide surveillance and inspection to respond to Russian requests to ensure the vessels would not be used to transport military equipment to Ukraine.
As part of the plan, the UN said Ukrainian pilots will be used to guide ships in and out of ports and through mined waters. The ships will follow a prescribed route out of Ukrainian waters and transit through the Bosphorus to a Turkish port where they will be inspected again before heading to global markets.
In addition to agreeing to inspections to ensure the ships are not used to transport military equipment, Russia has also demanded a smoothing of the limits on its shipments to the region. Russia was seeking guarantees to facilitate the movement of its foodstuffs and fertilizers with guarantees that its ships would also have free passage. The UN reports that a second separate agreement was being signed to settle these points.
IMO has also played a role in the development of what it calls humanitarian corridors. In March, the IMO Council requested the cooperation of the UN Secretary-General to help establish and maintain the security corridor in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
“The safety of ships and seafarers remains my top priority. IMO instruments, including international ship and port facility security, underpin this agreement for safe and secure navigation through the Black Sea,” IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim said. at the signing ceremony in Istanbul. “I commend the efforts of all parties involved, especially IMO member states – the Russian Federation, Turkey and Ukraine.”
It is estimated that there are up to 20 million tons of grain stuck in the port of Odessa and that several ships have remained anchored off the port since the start of the invasion in late February. Historically, Ukraine and Russia export around 75% of the cereals grown in the region, 90% of which by ship. The UN had warned that the blockade of ports could push 49 million people towards starvation, particularly in the emerging world.
Analysts at S&P Global Market Intelligence have warned that even if the deal has been reached, it could take a few weeks to months to resolve issues with the resumption of Black Sea routes. “Danube ports are likely to remain a safe and attractive option for grain exports in the near term,” said Daejin Lee, senior transportation analyst at S&P Global Market Intelligence. At first, Lee predicts that smaller domestic vessels will exploit growing capacity, but shipping grain out of Ukraine efficiently requires larger bulk carriers that are unlikely to return until insurance and security issues are resolved. .
The UN has said it expects it will take a few weeks to fully implement the current agreements, but it aims to restore grain shipments to pre-war levels. Speaking to reporters after the signing ceremony, UN officials said the goal was to export five million metric tons of grain per month. The initial deal lasts 120 days but is renewable and the UN has said it does not expect it to end anytime soon.