The first grain ship to depart Ukraine under a wartime deal is poised to cross through the Bosporus Strait and sail to Lebanon after its cargo was checked and approved, Turkish and Ukrainian authorities said.
An inspection team spent about 90 minutes conducting checks aboard the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni, which was carrying Ukrainian corn and anchored off Istanbul, Turkey’s Defence Ministry said.
The team included officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations.
The Razoni’s horn rang out as the inspectors left the ship.
Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials arrive at the cargo ship Razoni for inspection (Khalil Hamra/AP)
Pictures tweeted by the Turkish Ministry of Defence showed an inspector reaching into an open container on the Razoni and touching the grain.
The Razoni, which the United Nations says is carrying 26,527 tons of corn, set sail on Monday from Odesa on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.
It is bound for Lebanon, its final destination.
Ukraine’s Ministry of Infrastructure confirmed the ship had passed the inspection and said 17 other vessels “are loaded and are awaiting permission to leave”.
Inspectors, some wearing white helmets, headed out to the Razoni under rain in two boats, escorted by the Turkish coast guard.
Turkish media said there were about 20 inspectors.
The checks aim to ensure that incoming vessels are not carrying weapons and that outgoing ones are bearing only grain, fertiliser or related food items, not any other commodities.
More ships from Ukraine are expected to set out in the coming days, raising hope that world food shortages can be alleviated.
A boat with Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN officials on board heads to the Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni (Emrah Gurel/AP)
Some 27 vessels have been waiting in three Ukrainian ports with cargo and signed contracts, ready to go, according to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain have been stuck in Ukraine since the start of war.
The UN-brokered agreement last month to release the grain calls for the establishment of safe corridors through the mined waters outside Ukraine’s ports.
The hold-up of shipments because of the war has worsened rising food prices worldwide and threatened hunger and political instability in developing nations.
Most of the grain stuck in Ukraine is to feed livestock, according to David Laborde, an expert at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.
Only six million tons is wheat, and just half of that is for human consumption, Mr Laborde said.
He said the Razoni is loaded with chicken feed.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the resumption of grain exports will reduce Russian authorities’ ability to extract concessions from the West.
“They are losing one of the opportunities to terrorise the world,” he said in his nightly video address late on Tuesday.
Russia’s war against Ukraine has also disrupted energy supplies in western Europe, with Moscow drastically cutting how much it sends amid fears it could stop sending any at all.
Meanwhile, the UN nuclear chief warned that Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine “is completely out of control” and urgent steps are needed to avoid a nuclear accident.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an interview with the Associated Press that the situation is getting more perilous every day at the Zaporizhzhia plant in the south-eastern city of Enerhodar, which Russian troops seized in early March, soon after their February 24 invasion of Ukraine.
“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated” at the plant, he said.
“What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely grave and dangerous.”
He issued an urgent plea to Russia and Ukraine to quickly allow experts to visit the sprawling complex.
Ukrainian State Emergency Service firefighters work on an oil tank following night shelling in Mykolaiv, Ukraine (Kostiantyn Liberov/AP)
Meanwhile, Russian forces kept up their bombardment of the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, hitting it with shells twice over the past 24 hours – around 9pm on Tuesday and 5am on Wednesday, governor of the Mykolaiv region Vitaliy Kim reported.
The shelling damaged a pier, an industrial enterprise, residential buildings, a garage co-operative, a supermarket and a pharmacy, Mr Kim said.
It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties.
Mykolaiv is a southern port city, somewhat on a par with Odesa, and is located on the Black Sea.
The Russians said in April they want control over not just eastern but southern Ukraine too.
Taking over Odesa and Mykolaiv in the south will give them control over the entire Black Sea coast and a land corridor to the breakaway Moldovan region of Transnistria.
Amid the relentless onslaught by Moscow’s forces, Mr Zelensky issued an order to all those remaining in the country’s embattled Donetsk region to evacuate as soon as possible.
The compulsory evacuation effort aims to take 200,000-220,000 people out of the eastern province by autumn, officials say.