By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -The United Nations expects a “big uptick” in ships wanting to export Ukraine grain through the Black Sea after transit procedures were agreed and a goal of 2-5 million tonnes a month is “achievable,” a senior U.N. official said on Wednesday.
Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations agreed transit procedures on Monday for a deal struck in July to resume Ukraine Black Sea grain and fertilizer exports. The procedures include a 10 nautical mile protection zone for ships.
“We’re expecting to see a big uptick in applications for transit,” said Frederick Kenney, interim U.N. Coordinator at the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul, which oversees the deal.
“The goal of getting between two and five (million) metric tonnes is achieveable,” he told reporters, referring to monthly exports.
So far 12 ships stuck in Ukraine since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion have been authorized to leave and four other vessels approved for travel to Ukraine. The number of inbound ships was expected to grow as grain sales are agreed, Kenney told reporters.
The United Nations has stressed that the export deal is a commercial – not humanitarian – operation that will be driven by the market. All ships are required to be inspected to allay Russian concerns they could be smuggling weapons into Ukraine.
“We’re going to be doing a comprehensive review of procedures early next week to see what needs to be tweaked and improved,” Kenney said.
WORLD FOOD CRISIS
The aim of the deal is to help ease a global food crisis that the United Nations says was worsened by Russia’s war in Ukraine and has pushed tens of millions more people into hunger. Ukraine and Russia are both major wheat exporters.
Kenney said the current priority was to free up pier space at the three ports covered by the deal – Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhny – so new ships could come in and load cargo. There have been no wheat shipments yet with departing vessels so far carrying corn, soybeans and sunflower oil and meal.
The three ports were essentially frozen on Feb. 24, Kenney said. “There was a different harvest coming in, it was primarily corn. The silos are full of corn,” he said.
Ukraine has some 20 million tonnes of grain left over from last year’s crop and this year’s wheat harvest, which is estimated to be a further 20 million tonnes.
“It’s imperative upon us now to get those ships out so that we can bring ships in to load cargoes that will be destined for ports that will contribute to reducing global food insecurity. But really any ship that goes out with Ukrainian grain is going to help the situation,” Kenney said.
He said ship owners had shown “tremendous interest” and that there were a number of empty grain vessels anchored in Turkey waiting for sales to be arranged so they could travel to Ukraine to collect cargo.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Grant McCool)