Ukraine/Russia grain export deal tested as first shipment departs

A vessel carrying corn has left the port of Odesa for the first time in months, in a crucial test of a grain export deal between Russia and Ukraine intended to alleviate soaring global food prices.

The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni, carrying 26,000 tonnes of Ukrainian corn, left the Black Sea Port at 9:48am local time, the ministry of infrastructure said, after weeks of negotiations brokered by Turkey and the UN. Turkey’s defence ministry, which led the negotiations that produced last month’s grain deal, said the Razoni would take its cargo to Tripoli in Lebanon.

It is the first such vessel to depart from Odesa since late February, when Russia invaded Ukraine. The Russian navy blockaded Ukraine’s commercial sea routes, launched missile strikes on its ports and grain storage infrastructure, and attacked civilian grain transport ships.

The vessel was due to arrive in Istanbul on Tuesday, according to a statement by the Joint Co-ordination Centre established as part of the UN-led grain agreement.

After reaching Turkey’s biggest city, it was expected to undergo checks at the centre, which is staffed by Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials.

Another 16 ships are awaiting departure, the Ukrainian government said, carrying a tiny fraction of the more than 22mn tonnes of wheat, corn and other grains that are in the country. The conflict has left as many as 47mn people globally at risk of acute hunger, according to the World Food Programme.

Long known as the breadbasket of Europe, Ukraine is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of the cereal. It accounts for 80 per cent of Lebanon’s wheat imports and is a big supplier for countries including Somalia, Syria and Libya.

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