Ukraine’s first grain ship cleared to leave Black Sea

The first grain ship to set sail from Ukraine in months was cleared to embark on the final leg of its journey after passing an inspection by a team of international monitors in Turkish waters.

The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni, carrying 26,000 tonnes of Ukrainian corn, set sail from the northern entrance of Turkey’s Bosphorus strait on Wednesday and headed for the Lebanese port of Tripoli.

Prior to its departure, the bulk carrier underwent an inspection by representatives from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN under the terms of a deal struck by Moscow and Kyiv aimed at easing a global food crisis.

Russia had pushed for the inspection of ships going to and from Ukraine as part of the agreement to assuage concerns that they could be used to ferry weapons to the Ukrainian armed forces.

Photographs shared by Turkey’s defence ministry, which along with the UN played a central role in brokering the deal, showed a group of inspectors in white hard hats climbing up a rope ladder to board the vessel.

Razoni left the Black Sea Port of Odesa on Monday morning after weeks of negotiations that culminated in an agreement with Russia promising not to attack grain ships in exchange for a UN commitment that it would work to unblock the export of Russian food and fertiliser to global markets.

After a journey that lasted almost 36 hours and involved navigating mine-laden waters, the vessel arrived safely at the northern entrance to the Bosphorus near Istanbul on Tuesday night.

The inspectors carried out “a three-hour inspection”, according to a statement by the Joint Agency Coordination Centre for the grain deal.

It added that they were able to “discuss with the crew and gain valuable information on the vessel’s journey along the maritime humanitarian corridor” in the Black Sea, which is mined and is under the permanent threat of Russian missiles.

At least 16 other ships are awaiting departure from Odesa as part of the deal, which the UN hopes will encourage grain traders and cargo companies to dispatch new vessels to Ukraine. While Kyiv has welcomed the progress, Ukrainian officials have also voiced misgivings about Moscow’s willingness to stick to the agreement at a time when fighting continues and there is deep mistrust between the two countries.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken called the departure of the Razoni a “significant step”. But he also called on Russia to halt attacks on Ukrainian farmland making it unusable and destroying agricultural infrastructure.

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