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Black Sea Grain Initiative ‘exceeds expectations’ but challenges lie ahead

New head coordinator seeks resolutions over roadblocks and outlines key negotiation points as it comes closer to renewal of the Black Sea Grain Initiative 

24 October 2022
The Black Sea Grain Corridors have ‘exceeded expectations’. Credit: Shutterstock/AlyoshinE

The Black Sea Grain Initiative has moved rocketing volumes of cargo but faces ship inspection challenges and has been unable to solve the trapped seafarer crisis. 

The UN corridor’s volumes have “exceeded expectations”, according to Amir Mahmoud Abdulla, United Nations Coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative’s Joint Coordination Centre (JCC).

One million tonnes of cargo had been moved as of 27 August, spiralling to more than seven million tonnes. The initiative has gone beyond what it hoped to achieve – between two to four million tonnes a month versus a figure closer to five million tonnes a month. 

But it is this achievement that has created an unforeseen roadblock: the inbound and outbound inspection of ships. “This is now our single biggest challenge – how do you get the inspection levels up with the flow of vessels to avoid a significant waiting time for ships building up,” Abdulla told ICS Leadership Insights

There are currently around more than 100 ships waiting for inspection for more than 10 days, with some heading towards 15 days. One idea to resolve this could be to implement spot checks, but this would need to be agreed by all parties involved. The deal can be automatically renewed as of 19 November but the parties to the agreement could bring in new elements for discussion as the date of extension approaches.

The UN is working on facilitating the unimpeded export of Russian ammonia under the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a raw material used to produce fertilisers for agricultural production. Although exports of fertilisers, including ammonia, are included in the current deal, there has so far been no shipments under the deal.

While the initiative has got grain moving, 66 vessels and around 346 seafarers are still trapped. “They are in the most dire conditions and in some cases not getting urgent medical care and even had a fatality,” says Natalie Shaw, International Chamber of Shipping Director of Employment Affairs. 

The JCC has only managed to get a few vessels not covered by the agreement out whose operators have managed to add grain or foodstuff to their ships. 

Otherwise, Abdulla says that some of the ships might be carrying parcels of interest to China or Russia. But first it would be up to these parties to form agreements for ships to sail before JCC could arrange for their movement. 

There is concern about a negative effect on extension talks if JCC tries to include ships that are not part of the grain agreement: “We will be a bit nervous about introducing anything that would just stop the whole corridor,” says Abdulla. 

JCC is keen to complete extension discussions over the next two weeks, but Abdulla acknowledges there are challenges given the rising tensions in the conflict.

Such challenges have come to light in the press in recent weeks, including alleged attacks on gas pipelines and the freezing of supplies. A recent example was the temporary suspension of gas flows to Italy via a pipeline through Tarvisio, Austria, due to regulatory issues. 

Elsewhere, Russia plans to increase gas imports through the Black Sea and Turkey following damage to Nord Stream pipelines.

This could mean that shipping companies will need to rearrange fleet deployment to boost gas deliveries in different parts of the world to bridge the gaps created.