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A SHIP carrying 26,527 tonnes of Ukrainian corn is underway in the Black Sea, having departed Port of Odesa on Monday. It is the first to transport grain out of Ukraine since Russian forces invaded in late February.

Razoni, a Sierra Leone-flagged bulk carrier, is bound for the Lebanese port of Tripoli after Turkey and the United Nations brokered a grain export agreement between Russia and Ukraine late last month.

On 22 July, an initiative signed in Istanbul marked the establishment of a humanitarian maritime corridor to facilitate the safe passage of ships from Ukraine to ease the global food crisis.

As reported by Reuters, a co-ordination centre was set up in Istanbul as part of the agreement, to oversee the departure of ships from Ukraine and inspect inbound ships for weapons. The United Nations along with Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish delegations work at the centre.

The plan is for other ships carrying grain to transit the corridor under the agreement, Ukrainian presidential officials reporting 16 of the 17 vessels currently docked in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports hold a combined total of around 580,000 tonnes of grain.

Ukraine reportedly hopes to export 20 million tonnes of grain in silos and 40 million tonnes from the current harvest.

“Let there be no doubt – this is an agreement for the world,” UN secretary general António Guterres said at the signing ceremony.

“It will bring relief for developing countries on the edge of bankruptcy and the most vulnerable people on the edge of famine. And it will help stabilise global food prices which were already at record levels even before the war – a true nightmare for developing countries.”

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Following the signing of the agreement, International Maritime Organization secretary-general Kitack Lim said the safety of ships and seafarers would remain his top priority.

“IMO instruments, including the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code, underpin this agreement for safe and secure shipping through the Black Sea,” he said.

International Chamber of Shipping secretary general Guy Platten said ICS would stand ready to work with all parties to ensure the initiative became a reality but raised some safety concerns.

“Ensuring crew safety will be crucial if we are to get this agreement moving quickly,” Mr Platten said.

“Questions remain over how ships will navigate heavily mined waters, and how we can effectively crew the ships in the region to meet the suggested deadline.”

But following Razoni’s departure on Monday, the ICS said the safe transit of the ship and its crew from the Port of Odesa was an encouraging proof of concept.

“We will continue to support the Joint Cooperation Centre as it develops the detailed operational procedures needed to ensure the safety of seafarers and ships operating in the ports of Chornomorsk, Odesa and Yuzhne,” ICS said.

“The safety of seafarers and port workers must remain the priority. Much work still remains to ensure that we can safely export the roughly 5 million tonnes of grain per month proposed by the UN.

“This will be a challenge, but our industry is resilient and is used to keeping trade flowing no matter what.”

IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim was also pleased to see the first departure from Odesa.

“The immense work by the UN and the relevant parties has now come to fruition. IMO will continue to do everything to support safe and secure shipping and ensure the safety of seafarers.” 

According to Reuters, Turkish defence minister Hulusi Akar said Razoni would anchor off Istanbul on Tuesday afternoon to be inspected by UN, Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish representatives.

Unless problems arise, the ship will then continue its voyage to Lebanon.

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