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Black Sea Grain Initiative: Renewal and Challenges

The Black Sea Grain deal was renewed on 18th March for at least 60 days, allowing for the export of grains, food, and fertilizers (including ammonia), from the ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhnyi. Transit times across the Black Sea are typically under 24 hours, with all vessels inspected in Istanbul. Created in July 2022, the deal is perhaps unprecedented as a maritime humanitarian corridor. To date the deal has facilitated exports to 45 countries worldwide - mostly to China, Spain, and Turkey. Mediated by Turkey and the UN, the deal has been successful in promoting diplomatic efforts between Russia and Ukraine, despite their ongoing conflict. However, it is fragile, with arguments among vessel inspectors delaying vessel movements through the corridor. Russia has threatened to suspend participation next month if it perceives no progress on removing obstacles to its food exports. Vessel movements within the Deal may also be impacted by wider market disruptions in the Black Sea for wheat and bulk cargo. Container availability is shaping the regional context for trade, with container movements in the Black Sea dropping by about 28% through 2022, according to Lloyd’s.

Ibrahim Berkay Doğan, a First Officer on contract to Turkish carrier companies, notes that while delays waiting for clearances are tiresome and sometimes stressful for embarked crew, there have not been significant changes in company operations and the labour market over the past year. Trade continues - but it is slower and with smaller vessels. Waiting times at anchorage can be as long as 45 days in Romanian waters, and two to three in Ukrainian waters, "waiting for paperwork." Waiting adds to the stress for embarked crew, while crew changes in Ukraine are very difficult. The very long waiting time for vessel inspections has become expensive for owners and traders, who have moved to ports on the Danube to ease their costs. However, access to these ports is limited by maximum permissible draught and vessel size. The high volumes seen at Constanta are likely to be repeated this year, while infrastructure challenges are compounded by a block on exports via Poland and Hungary. Alternative routes can handle perhaps 30% of pre-war capacities; workarounds may yet be found. But Ukraine's maritime logistics are likely to continue in war mode long after the kinetic conflict ceases.

Container vessels (loaded) arrivals in selected Black Sea ports, February 2021 - April 2023 (source: MariTrace)

Container vessels (loaded) departures in selected Black Sea ports, February 2021 - April 2023 (source: MariTrace)


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