In a bid to release cargo ships marooned in its ports since the eruption of hostilities, Ukraine has unveiled a “humanitarian corridor” in the Black Sea.
This move tests Russia’s effective maritime blockade, which was reinforced after Moscow withdrew from an agreement last month permitting Kyiv’s grain exports.
Initially, the humanitarian corridor targets vessels like container ships that have languished in Ukrainian ports since the February 2022 invasion.
Notably, these ships fell outside the ambit of the previous deal facilitating grain shipments.
The corridor’s establishment represents a significant challenge for Ukraine’s ability to restore sea trade routes, given Russia’s renewed attempts to reestablish its blockade.
Concerns have been raised by shipping and insurance sources regarding the safety of this initiative.
The Ukrainian navy disclosed that they have already proposed the routes to the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
The intended passage will mainly cater to civilian ships stranded in ports like Chornomorsk, Odesa, and Pivdenny since Russia’s full-scale invasion last year.
“The corridor will be exceptionally transparent, equipped with ship-mounted cameras and live broadcasts to demonstrate its purely humanitarian nature, devoid of any military intent,” said Oleh Chalyk, spokesperson for Ukraine’s navy.
While Moscow has yet to provide a formal response, Deputy U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq emphasized the importance of safe navigation and the need to uphold International Humanitarian Law at sea and on land.
Shipping and insurance insiders with knowledge of Ukraine’s maritime affairs expressed surprise at the new corridor’s announcement, questioning its feasibility.
They suggested that most ships might not be willing to sail under current conditions due to safety concerns.
“Insurers and their financial backers will need to reach a consensus, and they might deem the risks unacceptable,” commented an insurance source.
Another source within the shipping industry pointed out the unresolved issue of potential seafarer casualties in the event of a vessel being hit.
Approximately 60 commercial ships have been trapped in Ukrainian ports since Russia’s invasion, their fate uncertain despite the resumption of grain exports last year.
Amid the grain deal’s dissolution, Russia declared its intention to treat approaching ships as possible military vessels, raising tensions.
In response, Kyiv issued a similar warning for ships nearing Russian or Russian-controlled Ukrainian ports.
The United Nations cautioned that Russia’s exit from the agreement could exacerbate a global food crisis, disproportionately impacting impoverished nations by withholding grain from one of the world’s leading exporters.
Russia indicated a willingness to rejoin the grain deal if more favorable terms were offered for its own food and fertilizer exports.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, a co-sponsor of the deal alongside the U.N., expressed hopes of persuading Russian President Vladimir Putin to reengage in discussions this month.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba noted, “President Erdogan’s unique influence might be pivotal in coaxing President Putin back into the Black Sea Grain Initiative.”
A German grain trader sought more details, underlining that the Ukrainian temporary shipping channel hinges on Russia committing to refrain from attacking ships.