UN Pushes to Reopen Ukraine’s Ports for Grain and Fertilizer Shipments

UN pushes to open Ukraine ports
Terminal at the Port of Odessa (George Chernilevsky / CC BY SA 4.0)

Published Jun 3, 2022 2:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

The United Nations has launched a new round of shuttle diplomacy in hopes of opening Ukraine’s seaports as the Secretary-General repeated his concerns of a food crisis as the war marked its 100th day. The UN had previously advocated for safe corridors for shipping from the Ukrainian ports and across the Black Sea, while Russia has said it would be willing but also cites the need to remove western sanctions.

Amin Awad, UN Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine, confirmed that the organization was making every effort to secure the release of grain stuck in Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. The UN cites the massive stores of grain waiting to be shipped and the ships that remain in Ukrainian ports that should be transporting the vital supplies of grain and fertilizer exports.

"We have to overcome the blockade of our ports,” Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi told Der Spiegel. In the new interview with the German media outlet, the minister described that before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine exported 95 percent of its grain through Odesa, Mykolaiv, Mariupol, and other seaports. With the primary ports closed, he reports they are moving grain from Danube seaports and overland by train and truck. Exports by ships ranged between five and six million tons per month and now they are just a few hundred thousand tons. 

“The five million tons a month, that’s 100 ships a month,” said Awad, adding that rail transportation or trucking, could not manage the same volume and were fraught with logistical problems. “So, it really has to be a maritime movement…to export 50 to 60 million tons of food out to the world.”

Leading the discussions are top UN officials Martin Griffiths – the Organization’s Emergency Relief Coordinator – and Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General of the UN Trade and Development agency, UNCTAD. The UN reports it is working with financial institutions and the West to resume the trade in grain and fertilizer which is excluded from all the sanctions.

“The negotiations are going on,” said Awad, briefing reporters on Friday morning. “There (are) a lot of details and shuttling between Moscow and other countries that have concerns and the negotiations continue. But there’s no clear-cut emerging solution right now because it’s a board of puzzles that have to move together.”

The UN acknowledges the assistance of allies on both sides of the conflict seeking to assist in opening the ports and resuming trade. Belarus Reuters reports in a telephone call with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it could provide additional railway capacity to move grain from Ukraine to alternate seaports. Similarly, the Italian foreign minister, according to a radio report in Rome offered his country’s support in demining Ukraine’s ports as part of an UN-led initiative.

UN officials said they hope that the negotiations will proceed in a smooth manner and be concluded as soon as possible. In addition to the urgent need for humanitarian aid to reach Ukraine via the ports, the UN also cited the needs across Africa, which imports more than half of its wheat consumption from Ukraine and Russia. They said everyone agrees opening Ukraine’s ports by removing the blockade and the resumption of exports is vital to preventing a broader global crisis.

Top photo by George Chernilevsky / CC BY SA 4.0 license