Grain isn’t leaving Ukraine, despite ready ships and heavy need. It’s just too risky, even after signing ‘safe corridors’ deal with Russia.

Since the beginning of the February 24th invasion of Ukraine by Russia, three major Ukrainian sea ports have been blockaded. Chernomorsk, Odesa, and Yuzhny, all in the north corner of the Black sea, are major exporters of wheat, barley, corn, and sunflower oil, four key global staples. Harvests have continued through the fighting, but with only shipping along the north-running Danube open to them, harvesters are literally running out of storage as more comes from the fields.

There are 22 bulk carriers and cargo ships which have been stuck in the three ports since fighting began. If mobilized, they could potentially get export moving again immediately, but no one is certain of the risk.

Russia and Ukraine reached a deal, signed on Friday, which promises “maximum assurances” of safe passage for both Ukrainian and Russian ships entering and leaving those ports and crossing the Black Sea. But less than 12 hours after signing the deal, Russian missiles destroyed a ship at dock in Odesa, damaging port infrastructure. Russia initially denied involvement in the missile attack, but shortly later admitted to the lie, claiming the sunk ship was a military patrol boat. There has been no confirmation of this claim.

The deal, which was organized and brokered by Hungary, is only good for 120 days, which is not a lot of time to export approximately 20 million tons of grain. It’s off to a slow start so far, five days in without a shipment moved. Shipping companies and their insurers have cold feet, between the Odesa attack and the minefields which have been spread by both sides of the conflict throughout the northern Black Sea.

“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,” said Guy Platten, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping, a shipowner’s association which represents about 80% of the world’s merchant fleet.

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