Ships are continuing to carry Ukrainian grain, despite Russia suspending its participation in the Black Sea grain initiative. However, the viability of the trade route now hangs in the balance as insurers retreat from covering shipments. Ukrainian, Turkish and UN delegations have agreed to move 16 ships along the grain corridor without Russia’s participation, but it is not clear whether new charters will be supported. Lloyd’s insurer Ascot said it was pausing writing new cover for shipments until the situation becomes clearer. “Insurance that has already been issued still stands. It is new shipments, coming to the market since the news, that will need consideration. As such, from today, we are pausing on quoting new shipments until we better understand the situation,” said head of cargo Chris McGill. 

Ascot and broker Marsh launched a facility for grain traders in late July to provide up to $50m in cargo cover for every voyage. “Our intention remains to help with these exports and support our clients. We are hopeful negotiations will be successful and we can re-commence quoting,” said Mr McGill, adding that any shipments that were quoted in the past week were valid for seven days. Russia pulled out of the deal after drone attacks on its Black Sea Fleet in Crimea, which it said Ukraine was responsible for. Kyiv has not confirmed or denied any involvement. The Russian defence ministry has further alleged, without producing evidence, that the drones travelled along the maritime humanitarian corridor and were potentially launched from one of the civilian vessels involved in the Black Sea grain initiative. The Kremlin also claims that Russian ships that were attacked were involved in ensuring the safety of vessels travelling the safe sea passage, citing this as another reason to abandon the deal. Russia’s only responsibility in terms of the safety of ships exporting Ukrainian cargo is to not attack them.

Russia told a plenary session at the Joint Co-ordination Centre that the suspension was for an “indefinite time”. However, the delegation will maintain open dialogue with the UN and Turkish delegation on pressing issues. “Russia has planned this well in advance,” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s minister of foreign affairs, said in a tweet. “The current queue with grain has accumulated in the Black Sea since September, when Russia started deliberately delaying the functioning of the corridor and seeking to undermine the deal. Russia took the decision to resume its hunger games long ago and now tries to justify it.” Sixteen vessels are due to travel the grain corridor, 12 outbound and four inbound. The JCC has informed Russia of these plans. One of the vessels, Ikaria Angel (IMO: 9194397), is chartered by the World Food Programme and is carrying 30,000 tonnes of wheat for an emergency response programme in the Horn of Africa.

At the time of writing, there are a total of 17 commercial vessels berthed at the ports of Chornomorsk, Odesa and Yuzhnyi, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence data. One of these, Bomustafa O (IMO: 9114476), is due to travel today. There are nine vessels at the designated export ports that have been stuck there since the start of the military activity in February. Some experts argue that the best course of action is to end the grain deal, given the current circumstances. “Russia has no means to implement a blockade on Ukraine’s ports, as we witnessed this weekend,” said Yörük Işık, a geopolitical analyst from the Istanbul-based consultancy Bosphorus Observer. “This deal was a political one and it gave Russia an unequal say on what comes in and out of the Black Sea. Its de facto allowed Russia to continue its unlawful blockade on Ukraine’s ports.” The best solution, he said, was to pursue a new strategy, using escorts and government guarantees to get ships carrying Ukrainian goods out of the Black Sea safely. A total of 10 JCC inspections teams will be working today to continue moving ships under the initiative, with the aim of inspecting 40 outbound vessels.

More than 9.5 MMT of foodstuffs has been exported to global markets since the initiative launched in August. There are currently 97 loaded vessels and 15 inbound vessels registered for inspection around Istanbul, according to the JCC. There are an additional 89 ships that have applied to join the initiative.