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Ships loaded with grain have left Ukraine. Where are they going?

None of the ships released so far are going to Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia or other countries facing catastrophic levels of hunger. Instead, they are going wherever buyers want them to

August 10, 2022 / 02:01 PM IST
Cargo ship

Cargo ship "Ocean Lion" makes its way from the port in Odesa, Ukraine, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. (Image Source: AP Photo/Michael Shtekel)

Ruth Maclean

Two of the ships that have left ports in Ukraine after months of being trapped there are going to Turkey, carrying corn. One is going to England. One to Ireland. Others are headed to Italy and China.

None of the ships released so far are going to Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia or other countries facing catastrophic levels of hunger. Instead, they are going wherever buyers want them to: They are commercial ships, carrying grain for sale.

The United Nations has described three of the shipments from Ukraine, those taking corn to Turkey and Europe, as “lifesaving grain shipments.” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine told his counterpart from Botswana on Monday that his country was “ready to continue being the guarantor of world food security.”

But the idea behind reopening the trade routes to Ukraine is not that the grain will go straight to the hungry mouths that need it, but rather that the freed shipments will mean more grain on the world market and consequently lower prices.


Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesperson for the U.N. secretary-general’s office, said in a news conference Tuesday that the deal that unblocked Ukrainian ports had already driven global food prices down. That trend will eventually help countries facing food shortages, he said.

“In many countries, developing countries, the imports of food is not part of a humanitarian operation — it’s part of commercial contract,” he said. “So, the first wave is getting these ships out of the Ukrainian harbours because they’ve been there for a long time. Other ships will come in, all with commercial contracts. Some of them will go to developing countries. Others will go to other destinations.”

The World Food Program has chartered one ship to take food aid from Ukraine directly to places, such as Yemen and Somalia, where hunger threatens people, officials said. All the other ships, so far, are commercial ships.

The market is not always efficient at sending the grain where it is needed. The first ship that left Odesa, Ukraine, last week loaded with grain was headed to Lebanon, the country with the highest rate of food inflation, but the ship halted off Turkey’s southern coast when the buyer of its grain said it no longer wanted the shipment because it came five months too late. It will now be resold.

So far, 14 ships have left Ukraine, about half of the ships that were trapped in ports there by the war. In addition, there are two ships inbound, with another two expected to arrive Tuesday night. As the number of ships making the trip ticks up, they will relieve the pressure on Ukrainian grain silos, allowing farmers to fill them up with new grain.

The U.N. has set up a website to track each ship to leave Ukraine and keeps a running total of the grain tonnage that those ships contain. Ports, including in Odesa and Chornomorsk, need to be cleared so that other ships can get in and load up with grain.

“It’s critically important that we open up the pier space in the Odesa ports so that we can bring empty ships in to be loaded with grain and get them to the places that desperately need it,” said Frederick J. Kenney Jr., interim coordinator for the U.N. at the Joint Coordination Centre, when the first ship left that Ukrainian port for Lebanon.

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