Ships exporting Ukraine grain through the Black Sea are to be protected by a 10 nautical mile (18.5km) buffer zone, according to long-awaited procedures agreed by Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN on Monday and seen by Reuters.
The UN and Turkey last month brokered a deal after Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine halted grain exports, stoking a global food crisis that the UN says has pushed tens of millions more people into hunger.
Since then Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and the UN have been working to hammer out written procedures in the hope that it will assure shipping and insurance companies enough to resume grain and fertilizer shipments from the Ukrainian ports of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhny.
“We very much hope it will increase the traffic under this initiative,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ spokesman Stephane Dujarric said after the procedures were agreed.
The initiative has been operating in a trial phase for the past two weeks. Ten ships — stuck in Ukraine since the war started — have departed with corn, soybeans and sunflower oil and meal. Two empty vessels have traveled to Ukraine to collect shipments.
The biggest ship yet, the Ocean Lion, was due to leave the port of Chornomorsk yesterday to deliver 64,720 tonnes of corn to South Korea, the Joint Coordination Centre said on Monday.
The center in Istanbul, Turkey, oversees the deal and is made up of Turkish, Russian, Ukrainian and UN officials.
Ukraine, along with Russia, is a major global supplier of wheat and other foodstuffs.
However, the first ship to depart Ukraine under the UN deal last week is now looking for another port to unload after the initial Lebanese buyer refused delivery, citing a more than five-month delay.
The UN has stressed that the export deal is a commercial — not humanitarian — operation that would be driven by the market.
All ships are required to be inspected to allay Russian concerns that they could be smuggling weapons in to Ukraine.
The shipping and insurance industry wanted assurances of a secure journey with no threat of sea mines or attacks to their ships and crews. These are typically covered in standard operating procedures, which is what was agreed on Monday.
“The parties will not undertake any attacks against merchant vessels or other civilian vessels and port facilities engaged in this initiative,” according to the “procedures for merchant vessels” document.
One insurance industry source said the procedures “read as a reassuring set of rules, but will all sides stick to it?”
Under the agreed procedures, the center is to provide information on the planned movement of ships through the maritime corridor, which would be shared with Russia, Ukraine and Turkey’s military to prevent incidents.
Then as the vessel moves through the maritime corridor it would be protected by a 10 nautical mile circle buffer zone around it.
“No military vessel, aircraft or UAVs [drones] will close to within 10 nautical miles of a merchant vessel transiting the Maritime Humanitarian Corridor, excluding territorial seas of Ukraine,” the document says.
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