World: Risks, mined waters slow rush to extract grains from Ukraine

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Shipping companies are not rushing to export millions of tons of trapped grain out of Ukraine, despite a breakthrough deal to provide safe corridors through the Black Sea. That is because explosive mines are drifting in the waters, ship owners are assessing the risks and many still have questions over how the deal will unfold.

FILE - In this photo provided by the Odesa City Hall Press Office, firefighters put out a fire in the port after a Russian missiles attack in Odesa, Ukraine, on June 5, 2022. Russian missiles have struck Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odesa just hours after Moscow and Kyiv signed deals to allow grain exports to resume from there. Shipping companies are not rushing to export millions of tons of trapped grain out of Ukraine, despite a breakthrough deal to provide safe corridors through the Black Sea. That is because the waters are mined, ship owners are still assessing the risks and many still have questions over how the deal will unfold. (Odesa City Hall Press Office via AP, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - In this photo provided by the Odesa City Hall Press Office, firefighters put out a fire in the port after a Russian missiles attack in Odesa, Ukraine, on June 5, 2022. Russian missiles have struck Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odesa just hours after Moscow and Kyiv signed deals to allow grain exports to resume from there. Shipping companies are not rushing to export millions of tons of trapped grain out of Ukraine, despite a breakthrough deal to provide safe corridors through the Black Sea. That is because the waters are mined, ship owners are still assessing the risks and many still have questions over how the deal will unfold. (Odesa City Hall Press Office via AP, File)

The complexities of the agreement have set off a slow, cautious start, but it's only good for 120 days — and the clock began ticking last week.

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The goal over the next four months is to get some 20 million tons of grain out of three Ukrainian sea ports blocked since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion. That provides time for about four to five large bulk carriers per day to transport grain from the ports to millions of impoverished people worldwide who are facing hunger.

FILE - Servicemen of Donetsk People's Republic Emergency Ministry work to defuse a Ukrainian mine in an area of the Mariupol Sea Port, on April 29, 2022. Shipping companies are not rushing to export millions of tons of trapped grain out of Ukraine, despite a breakthrough deal to provide safe corridors through the Black Sea. That is because the waters are mined, ship owners are still assessing the risks and many still have questions over how the deal will unfold. This photo was taken during a trip organized by the Russian Ministry of Defense. (AP Photo, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - Servicemen of Donetsk People's Republic Emergency Ministry work to defuse a Ukrainian mine in an area of the Mariupol Sea Port, on April 29, 2022. Shipping companies are not rushing to export millions of tons of trapped grain out of Ukraine, despite a breakthrough deal to provide safe corridors through the Black Sea. That is because the waters are mined, ship owners are still assessing the risks and many still have questions over how the deal will unfold. This photo was taken during a trip organized by the Russian Ministry of Defense. (AP Photo, File)

It also provides ample time for things to go awry. Only hours after the signing Friday, Russian missiles struck Ukraine’s port of Odesa — one of those included in the agreement.

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Another key element of the deal offers assurances that shipping and insurers carrying Russian grain and fertilizer will not get caught in the wider net of Western sanctions. But the agreement brokered by Turkey and the U.N. is running up against the reality of how difficult and risky the pact will be to carry out.

FILE - A family sit on a rock in front of a cargo ship anchors in the Marmara Sea awaits to access to cross the Bosphorus Straits in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 13, 2022. Shipping companies are not rushing to export millions of tons of trapped grain out of Ukraine, despite a breakthrough deal to provide safe corridors through the Black Sea. That is because the waters are mined, ship owners are still assessing the risks and many still have questions over how the deal will unfold. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - A family sit on a rock in front of a cargo ship anchors in the Marmara Sea awaits to access to cross the Bosphorus Straits in Istanbul, Turkey, on July 13, 2022. Shipping companies are not rushing to export millions of tons of trapped grain out of Ukraine, despite a breakthrough deal to provide safe corridors through the Black Sea. That is because the waters are mined, ship owners are still assessing the risks and many still have questions over how the deal will unfold. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

“We have to work very hard to now understand the detail of how this is going to work practically,” said Guy Platten, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping, which says it represents national shipowners associations, accounting for about 80% of the world’s merchant fleet.

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“Can we make sure and guarantee the safety of the crews? What’s going to happen with the mines and the minefields, as well? So lots of uncertainty and unknowns at the moment," he said.

Getting wheat and other food out is critical to farmers in Ukraine, who are running out of storage capacity as they harvest their fields. Those grains are vital to millions of people in Africa, parts of the Middle East and South Asia, who are already facing food shortages and, in some cases, famine.

Ukraine and Russia are key global suppliers of wheat, barley, corn and sunflower oil, with fighting in the Black Sea region, known as the “breadbasket of the world,” pushing up food prices, threatening political stability in developing nations and leading countries to ban some food exports, worsening the crisis.

FILE - A farmer collects harvest on a field ten kilometers from the front line, a crater left by the Russian rocket in the foreground, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine,  July 4, 2022. Shipping companies are not rushing to export millions of tons of trapped grain out of Ukraine, despite a breakthrough deal to provide safe corridors through the Black Sea. That is because the waters are mined, ship owners are still assessing the risks and many still have questions over how the deal will unfold. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - A farmer collects harvest on a field ten kilometers from the front line, a crater left by the Russian rocket in the foreground, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine, July 4, 2022. Shipping companies are not rushing to export millions of tons of trapped grain out of Ukraine, despite a breakthrough deal to provide safe corridors through the Black Sea. That is because the waters are mined, ship owners are still assessing the risks and many still have questions over how the deal will unfold. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)

The deal stipulates that Russia and Ukraine will provide “maximum assurances” for ships that brave the journey through the Black Sea to the Ukrainian ports of Odesa, Chernomorsk and Yuzhny.

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FILE - A farmer collects harvest on his field ten kilometres from the front line in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine, on July 4, 2022. Shipping companies are not rushing to export millions of tons of trapped grain out of Ukraine, despite a breakthrough deal to provide safe corridors through the Black Sea. That is because the waters are mined, ship owners are still assessing the risks and many still have questions over how the deal will unfold. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - A farmer collects harvest on his field ten kilometres from the front line in the Dnipropetrovsk region, Ukraine, on July 4, 2022. Shipping companies are not rushing to export millions of tons of trapped grain out of Ukraine, despite a breakthrough deal to provide safe corridors through the Black Sea. That is because the waters are mined, ship owners are still assessing the risks and many still have questions over how the deal will unfold. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)

“The primary risk that’s faced is obviously going to be mines,” said Munro Anderson, head of intelligence and a founding partner at Dryad. The maritime security advisory company is working with insurers and brokers to assess the risks that ships could face along the route as sea mines laid by Ukraine to deter Russia are drifting.

Shipowners, charterers and insurance firms are seeking to understand how the deal will play out in real time.

“I think it’s going to come (down) to the position of the marine insurers that provide war risk and how much they are going to be adding in additional charges for vessels to go into that area,” said Michelle Wiese Bockmann, shipping and commodities analyst at Lloyd’s List, a global shipping news publication.

Bockmann said vessels carrying this kind of load typically have between 20 to 25 seafarers on board.

Zelenskyy observes ships loaded with Ukrainian grain exports

  Zelenskyy observes ships loaded with Ukrainian grain exports ODESA, Ukraine (AP) — President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited one of Ukraine’s main Black Sea ports Friday, a week after a deal was struck with Russia, Turkey and the United Nations to create safe corridors for ships to export grains that have been trapped in the country since the war began five months ago. His visit to a port in the Odesa region comes as workers were seen preparing terminals for grain exports, which are relied on by millions of impoverished people worldwide facing hunger.“The first vessel, the first ship is being loaded since the beginning of the war,” Zelenskyy said.

“You can’t risk those lives without something concrete and acceptable to the shipowners and to their charterers to move grain,” she said.

Marine insurers reached by The Associated Press declined to comment on whether they would provide coverage for these ships.

Ukrainian officials have expressed hope that exports could resume from one of the ports within days, but they have also said it could take two weeks for all three ports to become operational again.

The war has wreaked havoc on global trade, stranding over 100 ships in Ukraine's many ports.

Since the war began in late February, 22 bulk carriers and cargo ships have been stuck at the three ports included in the export agreement, data from Lloyd’s List Intelligence shows. Around 13 are docked at Chornomorsk, six in Odesa and three at Yuzhny.

Some of those ships might still have crews aboard that could be mobilized to start exporting grains.

Ukrainian traders have able to send some grain through the Danube River, which helped buoy exports to about 1.5 million tons in May and up to around 2 million tons in June, though that is still less than half the monthly grain shipments of 4 to 5 million tons prior to the war, according to Svetlana Malysh, a Black Sea agriculture markets analyst with Refinitiv.

Over the 2021-2022 marketing year, Russia exported about 30 million tons of wheat, according to Refinitiv trade flows. That is the lowest level since 2017, in part because of the chilling effect of sanctions. Russian fertilizer exports also saw a drop of 25% in the first quarter of the year compared with the same period last year, in part due to Western sanctions, Malysh said.

For ships heading to Ukraine's three ports, smaller Ukrainian pilot boats will guide the vessels through approved corridors. The entire operation, including the scheduling of ships along the route, will be overseen by a Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul staffed by officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations.

Once ships reach port, they will be loaded with tens of thousands of tons of grains before departing back to the Bosphorus Strait, where representatives from Ukraine, Russia, the U.N. and Turkey will board the ships to inspect them for weapons. There will likely be inspections for ships embarking to Ukraine as well.

“The balance of power on this agreement still sits with Russia,” said Anderson, Dryad's head of intelligence. Any Ukrainian ports outside the agreement face increased risk of attack, he said.

“I think what Russia wants ... is to be seen as the state that controls the narrative within the Black Sea," Anderson said.

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Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Susie Blann in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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Follow Aya Batrawy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ayaelb.

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