The first grain ship to leave Ukraine under a wartime deal is ready to cross the Bosphorus strait and sail to Lebanon after its cargo is inspected and approved, Turkish and Ukrainian authorities said.
An inspection team spent about 90 minutes carrying out checks on the Sierra Leonean-flagged Razoni, which was carrying Ukrainian corn and anchored off Istanbul, Turkey’s defense ministry said.
The group included officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations.
Razoni’s horn blew as the inspectors left the ship.
Images posted on Twitter by the Turkish Defense Ministry show an inspector reaching into an open bin at Razoni and touching the grain.
The Razoni, which the United Nations says is carrying 26,527 tons of corn, left Odessa on Monday for Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.
It is bound for Lebanon, its final destination.
Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry confirmed the ship had passed inspection and said another 17 ships “are loaded and awaiting permission to leave”.
Inspectors, some wearing white helmets, headed towards Razoni in the rain in two boats, accompanied by the Turkish coast guard.
Turkish media reported that there were about 20 inspectors.
The controls aim to ensure that incoming ships do not carry weapons and that outgoing ships only carry grain, fertilizer or related food items and no other goods.
More ships from Ukraine are expected to depart in the coming days, raising hopes that global food shortages can be eased.
About 27 ships are waiting in three Ukrainian ports with cargo and have signed contracts, ready to depart, according to UN spokesman Stefan Dujarric.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain have been stuck in Ukraine since the start of the war.
The U.N.-brokered deal last month to release the grain requires the creation of safe corridors through the mine-studded waters off Ukraine’s ports.
The suspension of shipments due to the war has exacerbated rising food prices worldwide and threatened hunger and political instability in developing countries.
Most of the grain stuck in Ukraine is intended for animal feed, according to David Laborde, an expert at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.
Only 6 million tons is wheat, and only half of that is for human consumption, Laborde said.
He said Razoni is loaded with chicken feed.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the resumption of grain exports would reduce the ability of Russian authorities to extract concessions from the West.
“They are missing one of the opportunities to terrorize the world,” he said in his late-night video address on Tuesday.
Russia’s war against Ukraine has also disrupted energy supplies in Western Europe, with Moscow sharply reducing the quantities it sends amid fears it could stop sending altogether.
Meanwhile, the UN nuclear chief warned that Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine “is completely out of control” and that urgent measures are needed to avoid a nuclear accident.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told The Associated Press that the situation is becoming more dangerous every day at the Zaporizhzhia plant in the southeastern city of Enerhodar, which was seized by Russian troops in early March. shortly after their invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated” at the plant, he said.
“What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely serious and dangerous.”
He made an urgent appeal to Russia and Ukraine to quickly allow experts to visit the sprawling complex.
Meanwhile, Russian forces continued to bombard the city of Mykolayiv in southern Ukraine, hitting it with shells twice in the past 24 hours, the governor of Mykolayiv region, Vitaly Kim, said.
The bombing destroyed a wharf, an industrial plant, residential buildings, a garage cooperative, a supermarket and a pharmacy, Kim said.
It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.
Mykolaiv is a southern port, somewhat on the same level as Odessa, and is situated on the Black Sea.
The Russians said in April that they want control not only of eastern but also of southern Ukraine.
Taking Odessa and Mykolaiv in the south would give them control of the entire Black Sea coast and a land corridor to the breakaway Moldavian region of Transnistria.
Amid a relentless offensive by Moscow forces, Mr Zelensky ordered everyone remaining in the country’s war-torn Donetsk region to evacuate as soon as possible.
The mandatory evacuation effort aims to get 200,000-220,000 people out of the eastern province by the fall, officials say.