The first grain ship to leave a Ukrainian port in wartime passed through the Bosphorus Strait on Wednesday en route to Lebanon for a delivery that foreign powers hope will be the first of many to help ease a global food crisis.
The Razoni left Odesa on the Black Sea early on Monday carrying 26,527 tonnes of corn and anchored at the entrance of the Bosphorus Strait on Tuesday night.
The shipment was made possible after Turkey and the United Nations brokered a grain and fertiliser export agreement between Moscow and Kyiv last month - a rare diplomatic breakthrough in a drawn-out war of attrition.
The ship entered the Bosphorus Strait around 1130 GMT, following the completion of the inspection by Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN personnel working at a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) in nearby Istanbul.
Ukraine said it had 17 more vessels loaded with agricultural products awaiting approval to set sail.
Ukraine's ambassador to Lebanon, Ihor Ostash, said the Razoni was expected to arrive in Tripoli port in four to five days.
THREE SHIPS A DAY
The JCC said the ship was cleared after a three-hour inspection. Information from the crew about the Razoni's journey will be used to fine-tune procedures to continue the safe passage of commercial vessels under the deal, it added.
The UN-brokered deal relaunched the export of grains from one of the world's top producers after they were stalled for more than five months after Russia's Feb 24 invasion. The agreement aims to help ease shortages and rising prices.
After the first successful departure, a senior Turkish official, who requested anonymity, said three ships may leave from any of the three Black Sea ports of Odesa and nearby Pivdennyi and Chornomorsk every day, instead of the previously planned one.
The 120-day deal will be extended by a month at a time if exports are not completed due to the weather or problems with inspections, the official said, adding that the initial period appeared sufficient for Ukrainian silos to be emptied.
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that more outbound movement was being planned from Ukraine on Wednesday, adding that about 27 ships were covered by the export deal.
Denys Marchuk, deputy chair of the Ukrainian Agrarian Council, said at a briefing on Wednesday that Ukraine would like to include ports in the Mykolaiv region, to the east of Odesa, into the deal.
"The infrastructure ministry and the agriculture ministry are beginning to actively discuss with the coordinating council in Istanbul that it might be worth involving other ports, in particular in the Mykolaiv region," he said.
Marchuk said Ukraine had exported 5-6 million tonnes of grain per month via its sea ports before the war but it was not possible to reach that level with the conflict and not all ports in operation.