Ukraine has said it is ready for grain ships to travel through its waters but is waiting for the go-ahead from the United Nations, which it hopes it will receive later on Friday.
An announcement from the Lloyd’s of London insurer Ascot and broker Marsh that they had launched marine cargo and war insurance for grain and food products moving from the Black Sea ports also removed a hurdle to getting shipments under way.
“We hope to receive approval today from the UN confirming the corridors we have the proposed ships take in the Black Sea,” said Ukraine’s minister of infrastructure, Oleksandr Kubrakov, standing in Odesa next to a ship that has been stranded since the invasion and is now ready to set sail.
“After [receiving approval] we are ready to begin … we hope that by the end of this week the first ship will leave our ports,” he said. Ukraine’s media earlier reported that the shipments would start on Friday.
Under the grain agreement, the UN and Turkey have guaranteed the safe passage of ships carrying much needed grain from Ukraine. Russian forces blocked Ukraine’s ports in February as part of Moscow’s attempt to capture the country, causing a worldwide grain shortage that has pushed some countries towards famine.
Ukraine mined the waters along its coast to protect itself from a land invasion by Russia. The ships will therefore have to navigate their exits from the ports carefully.
“We have resolved practically all the technical questions [on our side] … we have provided the UN some options,” said Kubrakov of the ship routes. He said it now depended on how the UN and Turkey facilitated the deal.
Less than 24 hours after signing the deal, on Saturday, Russia fired two missiles at Odesa port, outraging the international community and casting doubt on whether the grain agreement would go ahead.
Despite the attacks, the ambassadors of the G7 countries to Ukraine as well as the UN and EU representatives stood next to Kubrakov in Odesa on Friday and expressed their hope that Russia would keep its side of the bargain.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, visited Chornomorsk, a port in south Odesa region, to meet with the representatives and watch preparations for the shipments.
The British ambassador to Ukraine, Melinda Simmons, said that although the UK was not involved in the deal or its implementation, it had been helping secure commercial insurance for the ships from providers in London. The announcement from Ascot signaled progress had been made.
Simmons said last Saturday’s attack had scared insurance companies, but they shouldn’t be deterred.
“The main thing is not to be scared of Russia’s tactics because that’s what they are – tactics, to stop this from happening,” she said.
Export experts said this week that insuring the ships may be one of the biggest obstacles Ukraine faces in terms of future trade.
Simmons said the UK was also helping Ukraine understand how much grain Russia had been stolen from its occupied territories. There is mounting evidence that Russia has been exporting from the Ukrainian territories it occupies grain.
“Millions of people around the world are waiting for grain to come out of this and other Ukrainian ports,” said Bridget Brink, the US ambassador to Ukraine. “One week ago, the Russians signed an agreement with the UN and Turkey … 24 hours later, Russia bombed this very port.”
“I hope there’s an agreement later this morning and I can say that the US and the rest of the world will look to Russia to stand up and implement its agreements,” Brink added.
Ukraine is exporting at a rate of about 2.5m tonnes a year, up from 0.3 tonnes in March, said Rémi Duflot, the deputy head of EU delegation to Ukraine at the port.
Before the war, Ukraine exported around 6m-8m tonnes a month. Since its Black Sea ports were blockaded, Ukraine has been using the Danube and its rail network to move its grain.