(Reuters) — Ships exporting Ukraine’s grain through the Black Sea will be protected by a 10 nautical mile buffer zone, under long-awaited procedures agreed by Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations on Monday.
The United Nations and Turkey brokered a deal last month after Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine halted grain exports, creating a global food crisis that the United Nations says has driven tens of millions more people into hunger.
Since then, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the United Nations have been working to develop written procedures in hopes of reassuring shipping and insurance companies enough to resume grain and fertilizer shipments from the Ukrainian ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhny.
“We really hope that there will be an increase in traffic under this initiative,”; said a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
The initiative has been running in a trial phase for the past two weeks. Ten ships – stuck in Ukraine since the war began – have left with corn, soybeans and sunflower oil and flour. Two empty ships have traveled to Ukraine to pick up shipments.
Together with Russia, Ukraine is a major global supplier of wheat and other foodstuffs. But the first ship to leave Ukraine under the UN deal last week is now looking for another port to unload after the first Lebanese buyer refused delivery, citing a more than five-month delay.
The UN has stressed that the export deal is a commercial – not humanitarian – operation that will be driven by the market. All ships must be inspected to allay Russian fears that they could be smuggling weapons to Ukraine.
Neil Roberts, head of marine and aviation at the Lloyd’s Market Association – which represents the interests of all insurers on the Lloyd’s of London insurance market – told Reuters the industry could now “play its part”.
“The successful exit of multiple ships was beyond most people’s imagination just a few weeks ago and to have come this far is extraordinary,” Roberts said. “Actually achieving the goals of the UN initiative would be something for historians to reflect on.”
The shipping and insurance industry wanted assurances of a safe voyage without the threat of sea mines or attacks on their ships and crews. These are usually covered by standard procedures, which is what was agreed on Monday.
“Parties will not conduct any attacks against merchant vessels or other civilian vessels and port facilities engaged in this initiative,” according to the merchant vessel procedures document.
An insurance industry source said the procedures “read like a reassuring set of rules. But will all sides stick to it?”