The first grain ship to sail from Ukraine in months has been cleared for the final stage of its voyage after passing an inspection by a team of international observers in Turkish waters.
The Sierra Leone-flagged ship, the Razzoni, carrying 26,000 tons of Ukrainian maize, sailed from the northern entrance to the Turkish Bosphorus Strait on Wednesday, heading for the Lebanese port of Tripoli.
Before leaving, the bulk carrier was inspected by representatives from Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations under the terms of a deal concluded by Moscow and Kiev aimed at alleviating the global food crisis.
Russia pushed for inspections of ships heading to and from Ukraine as part of the agreement to allay fears that they could be used to transfer weapons to Ukraine’s armed forces.
Pictures released by the Turkish Defense Ministry, which along with the United Nations played a key role in brokering the deal, showed a group of inspectors in hard white hats climbing a rope ladder to board the ship.
Razzoni left the Black Sea port of Odessa on Monday morning after weeks of negotiations that culminated in an agreement with Russia that pledged not to attack grain ships in exchange for a UN commitment that it would work to lift a ban on the export of Russian food and fertilizer to world markets. .
After a nearly 36-hour journey that involved sailing waters laden with mines, the ship arrived safely at the northern entrance to the Bosphorus strait near Istanbul on Tuesday night.
The inspectors conducted a “three-hour examination,” according to a statement issued by the agency’s Joint Coordination Center for the grain deal.
She added that they were able to “talk with the crew and obtain valuable information about the ship’s voyage along the humanitarian sea corridor” in the Black Sea, mined and under constant threat from Russian missiles.
At least 16 more ships are waiting to depart from Odessa as part of the deal, which the United Nations hopes will encourage grain traders and shipping companies to send new ships to Ukraine. While Kyiv has welcomed the progress, Ukrainian officials have also expressed concerns about Moscow’s willingness to abide by the agreement at a time when fighting continues and deep mistrust prevails between the two countries.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken described Razzoni’s departure as an “important step”. But he also called on Russia to stop attacks on Ukrainian agricultural land, rendering it unusable and destroying agricultural infrastructure.