Even If Ukraine’s Ports Open Up Tomorrow, It Will Take “Months” To Demine Them: UN

At a moment global humanitarian and hunger relief groups are warning of a “catastrophe” for already vulnerable populations particularly in Africa and the Middle East which rely heavily on Ukrainian and Black Sea region grain exports, the United Nations has said it will likely take “months” to de-mine Ukraine’s ports. The war-torn country is the fourth biggest exporter of grain in the world.

Hundreds of merchant vessels had been stranded in the war’s opening months at Ukrainian ports following the Russian invasion, and still nearly 100 remain stuck along with their crews. This week a special advisor on maritime security at the UN’s International Maritime Organization told Bloomberg: “Even if the ports wanted to reopen tomorrow it would take some time until ships could enter or depart.” But it remains that before this, “Completely removing sea mines in the port areas would take several months.”

Image via Yonhap News

The de-mining issue has stalled UN-sponsored negotiations in Istanbul between Russia and Turkey to establish a ‘grain corridor’ to get the vital exports needed for much of the world’s food moving again. Kiev has charged that both the Russian naval blockade as well as Russian forces’ theft of Ukraine’s grain is the reason for the emerging global food and supply crisis, while the Kremlin has long blamed Ukraine for heavily mining its own ports.

Statements from the Ukrainian and Russian governments, as well as in international reports, indicate there are literally multiple thousands of mines up and down Ukraine’s coast. For this reason, Ukrainian government officials have estimated that if it started demining efforts now, it would take a whopping six months to clear the coast of Ukrainian and Russian mines, as cited in The Guardian.

In his latest statements, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the onus is on the Ukrainian side

We state daily that we’re ready to guarantee the safety of vessels leaving Ukrainian ports and heading for the (Bosphorus) gulf, we’re ready to do that in cooperation with our Turkish colleagues,” he said after talks with his Turkish counterpart.

“To solve the problem, the only thing needed is for the Ukrainians to let vessels out of their ports, either by demining them or by marking out safe corridors, nothing more is required.”

Ukraine has rejected this narrative or that it bears responsibility for placing mines in the face of an invading power. The standoff and firm words on Wednesday strongly suggesting there’s no resolution to the crisis in sight.

“Freight and insurance costs spiked after several merchant ships were hit in the early days of Russia’s invasion, and some shipping companies are still avoiding the Black Sea,” Bloomberg details of a still dangerous situation for Black Sea shipping. “Three mines were detected free-floating in March, two off the coast of Turkey and one near Romania. In the northwest of the Black Sea near Ukraine, commercial ships have stopped operating,” the report adds.

In terms of estimated numbers, there were initially 2,000 commercial ships stuck at Ukrainian ports – but in recent weeks this is down to over 80 international ships which represent some 450 crew members.

Most of Ukraine and Russian grain exports originate at these 9 ports. Russian exports have largely resumed.

But again, even if a deal between Russia and Ukraine to lift the blockade were struck tomorrow, the presence of mines would make it unsafe for commercial maritime traffic:

According to the UN, Russia and Ukraine supply about 40% of the wheat consumed in Africa, where prices have already risen by about 23%.

However, Markiyan Dmytrasevych, an adviser to Ukraine’s minister of agrarian policy and food, said on Tuesday that even if Russia lifted its blockade, thousands of mines would remain floating around the port of Odesa, and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, spokesman for the World Food Programme, Petroc Wilton, told Sky News on Wednesday that an already bad situation is about to get a lot worse. “Food prices were already going really, really high,” he said, and explained: “The concern now is that Ukraine is making these things worse, but also because of the impact that the Ukraine crisis is having on aviation fuel costs, (and) is having on international shipping costs.”

He emphasized: “So the real concern right now is that Ukraine will make an already dire situation so much worse.”

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