Cargo ships loaded with grain and other agricultural products left Ukrainian ports on Monday despite Russia’s decision to withdraw from a landmark deal aimed at relieving a global food crisis.
At least six ships, including the Ikaria Angel — chartered by the World Food Program and loaded with 30,000 tons of wheat bound for an emergency operation in the Horn of Africa — left Ukrainian ports on Monday, according to a website that tracks maritime traffic.
“Civilian cargo ships can never be a military target or be held hostage. Food must flow,” tweeted Amir M. Abdulla, the UN coordinator for the Black Sea Grain Initiative, on Monday.
A total of 12 ships were due to leave Ukrainian ports on Monday and four were due to head for the country, according to the Joint Coordination Center (JCC), which oversees the Turkey-UN brokered deal.
The deal came days after Russia told the UN and Turkey it was suspending its participation in the grain deal after Moscow accused Ukraine of a “massive” drone attack on its Black Sea fleet in Crimea.
Ukraine has called the Russian allegations a “false pretext”.
Moscow also withdrew from ship inspections, which were mandatory under the agreement.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed to continue efforts to keep the deal in place despite Russia’s moves.
“Although Russia is acting hesitantly… we will resolutely continue our efforts to serve humanity,” Erdogan said in a televised address.
– Conversations continue –
Monday’s dispatch schedule was agreed by the Ukrainian, Turkish and UN delegations, with Russia briefed on the movements, the JCC said in a statement late Sunday.
A source familiar with the matter said: “As signatories to the agreement, they have been urged to take the necessary measures to ensure the safety of the ships.”
Turkey’s Defense Ministry said talks are underway with relevant parties for the deal to remain in place.
“In these talks, the parties are reminded of the importance of continuing this initiative … and avoiding any provocation that will negatively affect the continuation of the mechanism,” the ministry said on Sunday.
Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain exporters, had to halt almost all shipments following the Russian invasion at the end of February.
The July deal to unlock its grain exports is crucial to alleviating the global food crisis caused by the conflict.
The deal, which established a security corridor through which ships could sail to Istanbul for inspections, had already enabled the export of more than 9.5 million tons of Ukrainian grain and was due to be renewed on November 19.
A separate deal with Russia allowed Russian food and fertilizers to be exported despite Western sanctions imposed on Moscow. But it was never implemented, to the dismay of Moscow, which has been complaining about the issue for weeks.
On Thursday, two days before Russia suspended its participation in the deal, its ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, told reporters that Russian exports would have to be allowed before Moscow would commit to extending the deal.
Ukraine has complained about delays in inspecting ships and has accused Russia of deliberately slowing down the arrival of dozens of ships from Turkey calling at its Black Sea ports.