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The first grain-laden ship Razoni passing by the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul last week.

First Ukrainian grain ship docks in Turkey after being turned away

The top UN official overseeing the deal said the first shipments of Ukrainian wheat are expected next week.

THE FIRST GRAIN ship to leave Ukraine under a UN-backed deal last week has docked in Turkey, marine traffic sites showed, following a report that it has finally found a buyer for its maize.

The Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Razoni left the Ukrainian port of Odessa on 1 August carrying 26,000 tonnes of corn and had been expected to dock in the Lebanese port of Tripoli last weekend.

But Ukrainian officials said the shipment’s five-month delay caused by Russia’s invasion prompted the Lebanese buyer to cancel the deal once the ship was already at sea.

Marine traffic sites showed the Razoni docked in Turkey’s Mediterranean Sea port of Mersin after spending several days anchored just off the coast.

The Middle East Eye news site cites a shipping agent as saying that a Turkish buyer has been found for the maize.

The “cargo sold…. It will (unload) at Mersin,” Ahmed al-Fares of the Ashram Maritime Agency told the news site.

An agreement signed by the warring parties with UN and Turkish officials in Istanbul last month lifted a Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports and established safe corridors through the mines laid by Kyiv to ward off any amphibious assault by Moscow.

The top UN official overseeing the deal said today that the first shipments of wheat should start flowing from Ukrainian ports next week.

The first 12 shipments that have left the three Black Sea ports designated by the deal were carrying corn or other foodstuffs, Frederick Kenney, interim UN coordinator at the joint centre in Istanbul overseeing the deal, told reporters.

He said Ukraine’s silos were full of corn when Russia invaded its neighbour in February.

“We are dealing with three ports that were essentially frozen in time,” Kenney said.

“The silos were full of corn and the ships that were there have been loaded with corn,” he said. “It’s imperative to get those ships out to get new ships in …. that can deal with the food crisis.”

The agreement, signed by the warring parties and UN and Turkish officials last month in Istanbul, was hailed as a major opportunity to tackle the global food crisis caused by the war.

Kenney said the 12 ships that have sailed out of Ukraine in the first week carried 370,000 tonnes of maize and foodstuffs.

He said this had allowed Ukrainian port authorities to deal with the backlog and clear out space for new ships that can come up in to pick up wheat from this year’s harvest.

“We’re actually transitioning to wheat,” he said.

“We have cleared the first ship inbound” to Ukraine through the Bosphorus Strait, he said. “That should occur sometime next week.”

The deal was dealt an early setback when the first ship to leave Ukraine, the Sierra Leone-flagged vessel Razoni, failed to reach its destination in Lebanon because of a contractual dispute.

Ukrainian officials said the Razoni’s owners were now looking for a new client to take the ship’s 26,000 tonnes of maize.

The vessel has been anchored off Turkey’s Mediterranean Sea port of Mersin since the start of the week.

Kenney stressed that his Istanbul centre did not get involved in contractual disputes, focusing on its mission of safely navigating ships through a designated corridor cutting through mine-strewn Black Sea waters.

The ships are inspected coming into and out of the Bosphorus.

“We’re seeing steady progress in the number of ships coming in and out,” he said. “We’re off to a good start.”

Russia ‘damaging’ nuclear plant

Meanwhile, Ukrainian operator Energoatom warned earlier today that Russian forces occupying the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southeast Ukraine are preparing to connect to Crimea, and are damaging it by reorienting its electricity production.

Zaporizhzhia is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and was occupied by Russia early in its invasion. Kyiv and Moscow blamed each other for attacks on the plant last week.

“The Russian military present at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant are implementing the program of [Russian operator] Rosatom aimed at connecting the plant to the Crimean electricity grid,” Energoatom president Petro Kotin told Ukrainian television.

“To do this, you must first damage the power lines of the plant connected to the Ukrainian energy system. From August 7 to 9, the Russians have already damaged three power lines. At the moment, the plant is operating with only one production line, which is an extremely dangerous way of working,” he added.

“When the last production line is disconnected, the plant will be powered by generators running on diesel. Everything will then depend on their reliability and fuel stocks,” Kotin warned.

Located not far from the Crimean peninsula, the plant has six of Ukraine’s 15 reactors, capable of supplying power for four million homes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has raised the spectre of nuclear disaster after strikes on the plant.

And UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that any attack on a nuclear plant would be “suicidal”.

“I hope that those attacks will end, and at the same time I hope that the IAEA will be able to access the plant,” he said Monday.

Recent fighting around the plant has prompted the UN nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to warn of the “very real risk of a nuclear disaster”.

© AFP 2022

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