In the shadow of Ukraine’s ongoing land-based conflict with Russia, a glimmer of hope has emerged at sea. Ukraine has defied the odds by establishing a flourishing grain corridor under the protection of its own military forces. This extraordinary achievement comes as a replacement for a United Nations-led scheme, which was boycotted by Russia in July. Despite skepticism and challenges, Ukraine is set to complete 100 voyages from previously blocked ports, shipping out approximately 2.5 million tonnes of predominantly grain. As of November 8th, 66 fully-laden vessels had already left the ports, with 37 more inbound, showcasing a remarkable turnaround for a trade that appeared doomed when it began in August.
Key Milestones in Ukraine’s Grain Corridor
- Unprecedented Achievement: The success of Ukraine’s new grain corridor is undoubtedly impressive. It defies expectations, as the country managed to set up this vital trade route amid ongoing threats of mines and Russian port attacks, without commercial insurance available.
- Voyage Numbers: Ukraine’s resilience is demonstrated by the fact that 66 laden vessels have already departed from the ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk, and Yuzhnyy/Pivdennyi, collectively known as “Big Odesa,” with another 37 currently inbound.
- Diverse Fleet: The corridor has attracted various types of bulkers, from small cargo ships to capesizes, with an average size of around 44,000 deadweight tons (dwt). This diversity signifies the trade’s versatility and adaptability.
Ukraine’s grain corridor has proved crucial in delivering its produce to international markets. Notably, approximately one-fifth of the cargo has been delivered to Spanish ports, with Egypt, Turkey, Romania, and Italy following closely behind. This geographical distribution reflects the corridor’s significance in maintaining Ukraine’s agricultural exports.
- Blumenthal JMK: Germany’s Blumenthal JMK has emerged as the most active player in the corridor, utilizing it to extract trapped vessels and send in additional ships.
- Greek Dominance: Greek companies, primarily based in Athens and Piraeus, account for about a third of the voyages. Kriton Lendoudis and the Stefanou brothers, among others, have been at the forefront of this trade.
- Middle Eastern Interests: While Greek companies play a significant role, it’s important to note that some of the Greece-based companies are managed by Middle Eastern interests, demonstrating the corridor’s global reach.
Challenges and Distrust
Despite its success, distrust in Ukraine’s grain corridor persists. The threat of floating mines in the Black Sea and continued aerial attacks on Ukrainian port infrastructure remains a constant concern. Publicly held shipping firms and top-tier names continue to tread cautiously in the Ukrainian trade. The fact that Eastern Mediterranean Maritime, a major player in the previous UN-controlled corridor, has only sent a single ship through the new one underscores the lingering apprehension.
Ukraine’s remarkable achievements in establishing and operating a successful grain corridor under challenging circumstances are a testament to the country’s resilience and resourcefulness. While the trade faces ongoing challenges and lingering distrust, it has provided a lifeline for Ukraine’s agricultural exports and brought economic benefits to participants. As the situation continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see how this corridor develops and adapts to changing circumstances in the region.