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Ukraine’s first grain ship cleared to leave Black Sea

The first grain ship to depart from Ukraine in months was allowed to embark on the final leg of its journey after an inspection by a team of international observers in Turkish waters.

The Sierra Leonean-flagged Razoni, carrying 26,000 tons of Ukrainian maize, departed from the northern entrance of Turkey’s Bosphorus on Wednesday and headed for the Lebanese port of Tripoli.

Prior to departure, the bulk carrier underwent an inspection by representatives of Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN under a deal signed by Moscow and Kiev to alleviate a global food crisis.

Russia had pushed for inspections of ships going to and from Ukraine as part of the agreement to allay concerns that they could be used to transport weapons to the Ukrainian armed forces.

Photos shared by Turkey’s defense ministry, which played a pivotal role with the UN in negotiating the deal, showed a group of inspectors wearing white helmets climbing a rope ladder to board the ship.

Razoni left the port of Odessa on the Black Sea Monday morning after weeks of negotiations that culminated in an agreement with Russia that promised not to attack grain ships in exchange for a UN pledge that it would work to unblock Russian food exports. and fertilizers to world markets.

Map showing the route of the Razoni bulk carrier from Odessa through the Bosphorus in Turkey en route to Lebanon

After traveling nearly 36 hours and navigating mine-laden waters, the ship arrived safely at the northern entrance to the Bosphorus Strait near Istanbul on Tuesday evening.

The inspectors conducted “a three-hour inspection,” according to a statement from the Grain Deal Agency’s Joint Coordination Center.

It added that they were able to “discuss with the crew and obtain valuable information about the ship’s journey along the maritime humanitarian corridor” in the Black Sea, which is mined and is under permanent threat from Russian missiles.

At least 16 other ships are awaiting departure from Odessa as part of the deal, which the UN hopes will encourage grain traders and freight companies to send new ships to Ukraine. While Kiev welcomed the progress, Ukrainian officials have also expressed doubts about Moscow’s willingness to abide by the agreement at a time when fighting continues and there is deep mistrust between the two countries.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the departure of the Razoni an “important step”. But he also called on Russia to stop attacks on Ukrainian farmland, rendering it unusable and destroying agricultural infrastructure.

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