Vessels have been unable to leave port since shortly after the conflict began on 25 February 2022, amid reports of naval blockades, mines and other obstructions. The opening of ‘safe corridors’, which allow certain grain carrying vessels to leave, is therefore welcome news to vessel owners and their insurers, as well as to the sellers, buyers and insurers of grain cargoes.
The global shipping community is watching closely as the RAZONI, which became the first vessel to leave Ukraine along a ‘safe corridor’ on 1 August 2022, makes its way to Turkey and eventually onto Tripoli. If the voyage is successful, it paves the way for other vessels to leave Black Sea ports.
Indications are that around 25 million tonnes of grain are awaiting export via the ‘safe corridor’. The threat of deterioration of these agricultural products has necessitated swift action to ensure that grain can be utilised and storage freed up before the next harvest yield, and there are reports that a further 16 vessels are ready to leave imminently.
However, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister has stated that it will take many months before grain exports reach pre-war levels (in August 2021, 194 grain-carrying vessels departed from all Ukrainian ports). The first two weeks are a pilot regime, meaning no more than five vessels are likely to leave from Odesa, Chornomorsk and Pivdennyi during this period.
A host of practical difficulties may also delay departures, including availability of crew, pilots and tugs. Concerns around safety remain as it is unclear if the tide will shift the mines laid by both Russia and Ukraine and, therefore, what volume of tonnage will be prepared to carry shipments through the ‘safe corridor’. Whilst vessels already at Ukrainian ports will be keen to leave, there is a more pressing issue as to whether those safe vessels who traditionally served the Black Sea and Sea of Azov will be prepared to return. It also waits to be seen if there is a limit to the number or type of vessels which Russia will permit to leave as part of the agreed initiative.
However, there are promising early signs as a number of other vessels in the Black Sea, whose AIS data has been largely inactive since the outbreak of war, appear to be manoeuvring in readiness to load grain cargos at the permitted ports.