The Turkish-brokered agreement allows millions of tons of grain stuck in Ukrainian ports due to Moscow’s blockade to reach international markets. Here is how it works.
As the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine raged on for months and Moscow blocked grain exports from the besieged nation, the world stared at a very real possibility of a global food shortage.
Ukraine and Russia are the two biggest wheat and grain producers, often referred to as the world’s ‘bread basket’, and their military conflict has already increased global food prices.
But the Turkish-engineered Black Sea Grain Initiative, a grain export deal signed on July 22 between Kiev and Moscow, finally became a reality, bringing a new dimension to the conflict and calming food prices. With the deal, both sides agreed on a grain shipment arrangement to export Ukrainian grain from the country’s Black Sea ports to international markets.
A newly-inaugurated Istanbul-based Joint Coordination Centre (JCC), set up by the Black Sea Grain Initiative and inclusive of Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials, monitors the shipments’ safe journey from Ukraine to Türkiye, from which the exports will move to their next destination.
Last week, the first ship carrying a 26,000-tonne cargo of corn left the Ukrainian port of Odessa to reach Istanbul, where it “was cleared to proceed to Lebanon” on Wednesday after “a scheduled inspection stopover”, according to the JCC.
Since Razoni's departure, nine other ships have left Ukrainian ports for Istanbul for inspections, according to the Turkish defence ministry.
While Ukraine-Russia negotiations on the grain deal have long been a complicated issue, many people around the world concerned about food security wonder how the shipment process works.
Here is a brief guide to the process:
First step: Ships leave Ukrainian ports
First, the JCC-approved grain-carrying ships like the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni, which was the first merchant vessel to leave Ukraine, departs from Kiev’s designated ports, according to the deal. There are three designated Ukrainian ports —Odessa, Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk—for the grain shipments.
The grain deal does not allow empty ships and vessels to leave Ukrainian ports. For now, per day, only three or four grain ships can depart from Black Sea ports and Ukraine can export only three million tons of grain each month.
Prior to the grain deal, more than 25 million tons of grain were stuck in Ukrainian ports, according to Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, due to the Russian blockade, increasing food prices across the globe. After the Ankara-brokered deal, the grain prices decreased sharply.
Second step: Ships sail through JCC corridor
Grain ships are using a JCC-secured maritime humanitarian corridor in the Black Sea until they reach Turkish waters. The corridor, which has been agreed upon by both Ukrainian and Russian sides, alongside Türkiye and the UN, serves to provide a safe journey for ships, protecting them from minefields and other possible dangers.
During their voyage, grain ships will be tracked via satellite and drones. According to the agreement, ships that turn off their signals and do not provide transparent information about port call points will not be admitted to Turkish territorial waters. Russia will also be able to export grain and fertiliser through the corridor.
Third step: JCC-led inspections in Istanbul
After reaching Turkish waters, ships should stop by in Istanbul for the JCC’s inspections. The JCC will proceed with its inspections at entrances and departure from Istanbul ports.
“A joint civilian inspection team comprising officials from the Russian Federation, Türkiye, Ukraine and the United Nations visited the merchant vessel Razoni this morning (Wednesday),” said a statement from the JCC, confirming that the ship’s crew and load are “authorised and consistent” with the information the monitoring centre received before it sailed from Odessa.
“This marks the conclusion of an initial ‘proof of concept’ operation to execute the agreement,” added the statement, meaning that the first mission’s success will be a good measure of assurance for next shipments.
During the inspections, the JCC team asked questions to the Razoni crew about how safe the journey was in order to assess the security level of the JCC-monitored corridor and gain “valuable information”.
“The JCC will use this voyage in its ongoing work on fine-tuning procedures and processes to enable the continuation of safe passage of commercial vessels across the Black Sea under the Initiative,” the statement said.
Fourth step: reaching international markets
After the grain ships departing from Ukraine are inspected in Istanbul, they will sail to their final destination in international markets.
Razoni is set to sailing toward Lebanon, an eastern Mediterranean country hit by a terrible financial crisis. But the ship has not reached Lebanon yet, according to Ukraine's Lebanon embassy. After going through inspections in Istanbul, the other ships will also be set to their respective destinations.
Right now, Panama-flagged Navistar is going to Ireland and Malta-flagged Rojen is moving to the UK. Türkiye-flagged Polarnet already reached its final destination, Derince, a district in Türkiye's Izmit, a Turkish Black Sea city.
There will be three other ships to reach Türkiye after Istanbul inspections. The two ships, Mustafa Necati and Sacura, will go to Italy and Star Helena will sail toward China.