Grain Corridor Picks Up as Ukraine Keeps Russia's Black Sea Fleet at Bay

Resilient Africa
A Storm Shadow missile strikes the front facade of the Russian Black Sea Fleet's headquarters in Sevastopol (Anton Geraschenko)

Published Sep 24, 2023 2:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

Traffic on Ukraine's unilaterally-organized sea route to and from Odesa is beginning to pick up in earnest. The second ship to enter and leave Chornomorsk without Russian permission has arrived at Istanbul, demonstrating the potential of a new near-coastal grain route created and defended by Ukrainian forces.  

The small Palau-flagged bulker Aroyat transited down the western edge of the Black Sea over the weekend, reaching the Bosporus in the early hours of Sunday morning. The vessel hugged the coast of NATO member states along the way, rarely straying out of their 12-nautical mile territorial sea limits. In a sign of apparent success for Ukrainian security measures, AIS data shows that the ship used the charted deepwater approaches to Odesa. This route took it away from the shoals of Ukraine's coast and closer to the Boyko Towers, a set of oil and gas rigs which had been occupied by the Russian Navy - until their recent recapture by Ukrainian special forces. 

The route's activity appears to be picking up. On Friday, the bulkers Azara and Ying Hao 01 arrived at the Ukrainian port of Yuzniy to load. The bulker Eneida arrived at Chornomorsk. Shipowner interest in the trade appears well-distributed, with participation by Turkish, Chinese and Panama-domiciled vessel holding companies. 

Vessel size has also increased: Ying Hao 01 is a 75,000 dwt Panamax, the vessel class used to ship Ukrainian grain to Asia in economical volumes. The first ship to make a trial transit, Resilient Africa (ex name Dafne H), was a 3,000 dwt coastal freighter. 

To open and maintain this route, Ukraine's military has stepped up pressure on the Russian Black Sea Fleet. On Friday, a Ukrainian missile strike hit the fleet's headquarters building in Sevastopol, causing an unknown degree of damage to Russian command and control functions. Last week, Ukraine used UK-built Storm Shadow missiles to destroy a backup command center outside of the city. 

Earlier this month, missile strikes on the port of Sevastopol destroyed a tank landing ship and a Kilo-class attack submarine in drydock, depriving the Russian Navy of a premier platform for maintaining a naval blockade. Repeated drone boat attacks on Russian patrol vessels in the western and northern Black Sea have had an unknown degree of success, but have succeeded in holding Russian naval vessels at risk far out at sea. No Russian boarding attempts or patrol-vessel sightings have been reported by Ukraine-bound ships since mid-August. 

The apparent success of the campaign may begin to bring down the cost of insurance for this high-war-risk corridor. A consortium led by Marsh is said to be preparing a package of insurance options to restore a degree of affordability for Ukrainian grain shipping.