Better late than never for Ukrainian grain ship bound for Lebanon

Vessel symbolises alleviation of global food shortage caused by war in Ukraine

Turkey's Rear Admiral Ozcan Altunbulak speaks to the media about the Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship 'Razoni', which left the port of Odesa in Ukraine carrying grain exports. EPA
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A Ukrainian ship carrying grain to Lebanon was ready to set sail from the port of Odesa on February 24 — the same day that Russia launched its invasion.

Now, five months later, it will arrive at its destination.

Ahmad Tamer, head of the northern Lebanese port of Tripoli, said ships from Ukraine usually take an average of a week to arrive in the country. The Razoni is expected to dock on Sunday or Monday.

But “we still haven’t officially been informed that the ship is coming to Lebanon, so we have no confirmation of when it will arrive”, he told The National.

Mr Tamer says the lack of confirmation is routine.

“It’s still early,” he said. “The owner of the ship or the import agent would normally let us know 24 hours before the ship arrives.”

He confirmed that the Razoni is carrying 26,000 tonnes of grain — welcome news for many Lebanese facing skyrocketing food prices.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has had a resounding global impact on supply chains. The UN has said that millions of people around the world could face a severe hunger crisis due to “frightening” shortages — especially in countries that import a large amount of grain.

Lebanon, which relies on imports for most food and all fuel, is one of those countries.

The Mediterranean nation depends on Ukraine for the vast majority of its grain, including wheat. The delay in grain shipments has exacerbated a shortage of subsidised bread amid a prolonged economic crisis that has plunged much of the country into poverty.

Although the Razoni is not carrying wheat, the arrival of the ship to Lebanon will be symbolic for the nation, as well as the world at large.

As the ship set sail on Monday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called it a “day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, as the first Ukrainian grain leaves Odesa after months of Russian blockade”.

Another 16 ships are loaded and ready to depart Odesa to help ease the global food crisis.

In late July, Lebanon’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that the Ukrainian ambassador to Lebanon, Ihor Ostach, had assured officials that Kyiv would establish a dedicated line of wheat delivery to the country.

The Razoni is expected to arrive in Turkey in the early hours of Wednesday, where it will be boarded for inspection by Russian, Ukrainian, UN and Turkish officials.

The inspection is part of a UN and Turkey-brokered deal to alleviate the global food crisis by enabling grain exports during the war in Ukraine.

Once the inspection is over, the ship will set sail for nearby Lebanon.

Updated: August 02, 2022, 6:02 PM