One calendar year on from the start of the conflict in Ukraine, fierce fighting on land shows no sign of abating. At sea, the Black Sea Grain Initiative (‘the Initiative’) remains in effect, but the plight of seafarers trapped in Ukrainian ports, and the indiscriminate threat posed by an unknown number of sea mines adrift in the Black Sea, continue to cast long shadows over merchant shipping.
Despite hosting only three inspection teams, the Joint Coordination Centre has steadily reduced the number of vessels awaiting authorisation to sail. As of 1 March, 33 vessels were waiting for inspection and, in total, the Initiative has enabled an impressive 777 outbound voyages carrying 22,747,287metric tons of grain and other foodstuffs to global markets.
In an address to the General Assembly Emergency Special Session on Ukraine on 22 February, the UN Secretary-General drew attention to the Initiative’s contribution to addressing global food insecurity, especially in the Global South. However, in remarks to the UN Security Council on 24 February, he also acknowledged the fragility of the agreement and underscored the “importance of all parties remaining engaged in this initiative” and called “for it to be extended beyond March 2023”.
Renewing the Initiative is a strategic priority, but the welfare of 331 seafarers trapped on board 62 vessels in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov is also a major concern. To highlight their predicament, ICS and 34 other maritime organisations and companies, submitted a joint open letter to the UN Secretary-General on 20 February, urging immediate action to evacuate the seafarers and their vessels. ICS hopes that the joint overture will increase pressure on decision makers to find a solution.
Detached sea mines have been seen throughout the conflict and the threat they pose remainsa concern. A recent example of this is when, on 13 February, a sea mine exploded within three miles of Batumi port, Georgia. Thankfully, the detonation was caused by a storm and no vessel was involved, but the incident was a timely reminder of the threat they pose and the complexity of conducting clearance operations. Operating in the Black Sea continues to require a thorough security risk assessment.