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Ukraine's Grain Ship Backlog Exceeds 150 Vessels

WFP grain ship
Some of the shipments from Ukraine are for the UN's World Food Programme, and are intended for nations with dire needs (WFP)

Published Oct 24, 2022 5:02 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UN Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) for the Black Sea Grain Initiative says that the vessel backlog that affected the program is back, and more challenging than ever. Though the program is operating successfully and has moved nearly nine million tonnes of agricultural products to date, its leaders are calling for "urgent" measures to improve vessel flow. 

All vessels going in and out of Ukraine's ports under the program have to be inspected, ensuring that they are not smuggling weapons or otherwise supporting the war effort. As of Monday, 113 vessels were awaiting inspection, including 97 laden ships carrying 2.1 million tonnes of grain. Another 60 vessels are in Turkish waters and waiting to join the shipping initiative. If and when cleared to proceed, the total potential capacity of the inbound vessels is 1.9 million tonnes, about 20 percent of the total grain shipments that have exited Ukraine to date.  

The JCC says that it is in talks on ways to address the backlog, since the next harvest is approaching and silos in Ukrainian ports are filling up again. Part of the rationale for the program is the need to ensure that Ukraine has enough storage for newly-produced foodstuffs.

Small measures to improve workflow so far include more efficient inspection procedures, simplified paperwork processes and a smoother clearance protocol for vessels. But the JCC is still concerned that the inspection delays could disrupt the supply chain. It has increased the number of its inspection teams to five, and its leaders want to see that number rise even further.

"The JCC regrets inconveniences caused to the shipping and trading industry. It reaffirms its commitment to enable the safe and timely navigation for exports under the Initiative," the working group said in a statement.

Ukraine's leaders have accused Russia of slow-walking the inspection program. "We have reason to believe delays in Russia's inspections of the grain initiative’s vessels are politically motivated," the Ukrainian foreign ministry said in a statement Sunday. According to officials in Kyiv, the three key export ports that are covered by the grain deal are only running at about 30 percent capacity. 

Over the weekend, UN spokeswoman Ismini Palla told CNN that the United Nations is talking with all parties daily and encouraging them to take "urgent measures" to speed up the flow of grain shipping out of Ukraine. 

The backlog shows the program's growing acceptance among shipowners and insurers, but it is as yet unclear whether it will last more than another month. The initiative is time-limited, and it is up for renewal on November 22. Its prospects are uncertain: Russia's government has complained about continued difficulties in exporting Russian fertilizer, which was one condition of the deal. Talks on the renewal are running in parallel with discussions about improving implementation.