Turkey has confirmed that the first shipment of Ukraine grain has left the port of Odessa, after six months of war-time blockages, under the UN-brokered deal to secure safe passage of grain ships signed by Moscow and Kiev last month.
"The ship Razoni has left the port of Odessa bound for Tripoli in Lebanon. It is expected in Istanbul on August 2. It will then continue its journey after it has been inspected in Istanbul," a Turkish Defense Ministry statement said.
The Kremlin also hailed the success based on the terms laid out in Isanbul: "As for the departure of the first ship, this is very positive. A good opportunity to test the effectiveness of the mechanisms that were agreed during talks in Istanbul," Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
According to Ukrainian officials the 186-meter long Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni cargo ship is laden with 26,000 tonnes of corn, and is expected to soon be followed by other ships.
The deal was signed on July 22 - with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres having hailed it as a "beacon of hope" after previously estimating that some 50 million people are facing "acute hunger" due to one of the biggest single global exporters of wheat. "Ensuring that existing grain and foodstuffs can move to global markets is a humanitarian imperative," Guterres said more recently.
Following the two warring sides signing "mirror" agreements with the United Nations, it took less than a week to get the joint coordination center based in Istanbul up and running. The coordination center, staffed by Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish, and UN officials is tasked to "oversee departures from the ports of Odessa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny, in which ships must circumvent mines, and will conduct inspections of incoming ships for weapons," Turkish media has described, noting too that all vessels must traverse Turkish waters.
Media estimates have commonly indicated that some 20 million tons of grain, largely from last year's harvest, have been "held hostage" and are piling up at blockaded ports.
The New York Times writes in a recent report on the crisis, "But despite fanfare in Brussels and Washington, the accord is being greeted cautiously in the fields of Ukraine. Farmers who have lived for months under the risk of Russian missile attacks and economic uncertainty are skeptical that a deal will hold."
Joint Coordination Center will inspect the ships carrying #grain from Ukrainian ports before they enter Bosphorus in a designated area of the northern anchorage. (With @detresfa_ ) #OATT pic.twitter.com/v2iwTyz2tw— Yörük Işık (@YorukIsik) August 1, 2022
And more from the report:
"The opening of the Black Sea ports is not by itself the magic answer," said Georg von Nolcken, chief executive of Continental Farmers Group, a large agro-business with vast tracts around western Ukraine. "It’s definitely a step forward, but we can’t assume that the deal will bring Ukraine back to where it was” before the war," he said.
The blockage has ignited wild price swings for crops and the cost of transporting them. Storage is running out for the latest harvests, leaving many scrambling for makeshift solutions.
The grain blockage from what's been dubbed the world's breadbasket saw a global spike in food prices which made the ability of poorer nations to continue imports an immense challenge. Moscow has tended to blame Ukraine for the crisis, after its military mined the ports.
Ukrainian officials have lately voiced concerns that Russia may be looking to 'sabotage' the deal - for example, by missile strikes on ports and infrastructure crucial to commodities exports. More ships are said to be waiting to leave.