The first official shipment of Ukrainian grain since Russia's invasion in February has passed an inspection by Turkish authorities and is sailing to Lebanon to deliver its load.
The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni reached Turkish territorial waters near the entrance to the Bosphorus Strait on Tuesday and was inspected in Istanbul by a team that includes Russian and Ukrainian officials. It will now pass through the strait and proceed to Tripoli to drop its cargo of 26,000 tonnes of corn.
The delivery, which left the Black Sea port of Odesa on Monday, is the first under a UN-backed deal brokered with the help of Turkey last month.
A Turkish official told Reuters that the number of ships scheduled to leave Ukrainian ports may increase from one a day to three.
Western-backed leaders in Kyiv accuse Russia of stealing Ukrainian grain in territories held by Kremlin forces and then shipping it abroad.
The UN has said millions of people around the world are on the brink of severe hunger because of the blockage, with more circuitous routes by road and rail proving only partially successful.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the cargo was carrying "two commodities in short supply ... corn and hope", and that the grain shipments “bring much-needed stability and relief to global food security, especially in the most fragile humanitarian contexts”.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba had 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".
Western diplomats said they were watching closely to see whether Russia upholds its promises to the UN and Turkey that it will allow the safe passage of the grain, promises that were brought into question when missiles hit military targets in Odesa after the deal was signed.
“These ships must receive safe passage, there must be no repeat of Russia’s shelling of the port of Odesa," said UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
"Russia has felt the full weight of global pressure and the eyes of the whole world will now be watching."
Lebanon is facing a major wheat shortage as the government struggles to cover subsidies for importers to buy grain on international markets because of the rising price and the country's four-year economic crisis.
The drop in deliveries from two of the world's biggest grain exporters, Ukraine and Russia, is contributing to a surge in prices that makes food imports prohibitively expensive for some of the world's poorest countries.
The UN estimates that nearly 50 million people are facing acute hunger as a direct consequence of the war that broke out after Russian forces entered Ukraine on February 24.
Wheat prices fell sharply hours after the grain shipment agreement was signed.