The largest caravan of ships carrying grain and other corn products since the start of the Russian invasion set sail from Ukrainian ports on Sunday, bound for Europe, Asia and the Middle East via the Black Sea mines.
According to the United Nations, the four ships leaving one of the world’s breadbaskets were carrying more than 160,000 metric tons — about 176,000 US tons — of agricultural products.
Ismini Palla, a spokeswoman for the United Nations, said the ships were carrying 6,000 metric tons of sunflower oil to Italy, 45,000 metric tons of meal to China, 66,000 metric tons of sunflower oil to Iran and 44,000 metric tons of corn to the Turkish city of Iskenderun.
He said all ships would be docked north of Istanbul and inspected by the Joint Coordination Center, an office where senior representatives from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations work together to enable the safe transport of grain, food and fertilizer.
According to the Turkish Defense Ministry, one ship departed from Odessa and three from the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk. An empty ship also entered Ukrainian territorial waters on Saturday, the first ship to arrive in Ukraine for loading, Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, said. he said in a tweet.
The operation was part of a deal struck in late July to allow more than 20 million tons of Ukrainian products to leave the country and be distributed around the world, generating revenue for Ukraine and helping to stem a looming global hunger crisis.
Four other ships have already departed this week carrying more than 80,000 metric tons of products to be delivered to Britain, Ireland and Turkey and Lebanon. On Sunday, the Ukrainian embassy in Lebanon, where the first boat, the Razoni, was expected to arrive, told Reuters the ship was being delayed.
Mr Kubrakov said the government was moving gradually to allow ports to handle a higher volume of work, aiming for at least 100 ships a month in the near future.
Experts said the issues affecting food markets were far from resolved, with a food crisis already reaching such proportions that no single intervention could solve it.
But UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the handover of Ukrainian grain stores was a “humanitarian imperative” that he hoped would “bring much-needed stability and relief to global food security”.
Nimet Kiraç contributed reporting.