First ship carrying Ukrainian grain cleared for onward voyage to Lebanon

ISTANBUL (AP) – The first grain ship to leave Ukraine under a war deal was ready to cross the Bosphorus Strait and sail to Lebanon after its cargo was checked and approved on Wednesday, the Turkish and Ukrainian ones said authorities.

An inspection team spent about 90 minutes conducting checks aboard the Sierra Leonean-flagged Razoni, which was transporting Ukrainian corn and anchored off Istanbul, Turkey’s Defense Ministry said.

The team included officials from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations. The Razoni’s horn sounded as the inspectors abandoned ship.

Images tweeted by Turkey’s Defense Ministry showed an inspector reaching into an open container on the Razoni and touching the grain.

The Razoni, which the United Nations says is carrying 26,527 tons of corn, set sail Monday from Odessa on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. It is destined for Lebanon, his final destination.

Ukraine’s infrastructure ministry confirmed the ship passed inspection and said 17 other ships are “loaded and awaiting permission to sail.”

Inspectors, some with white helmets, headed towards the Razoni in two boats in the rain, escorted by the Turkish Coast Guard. Turkish media said there were about 20 inspectors.

The controls are aimed at ensuring that incoming ships have no weapons on board and outgoing ships only carry grain, fertilizer or similar foodstuffs and no other goods.

More ships from Ukraine are expected to depart in the coming days, raising hopes that global food shortages can be alleviated. According to UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric, around 27 ships were waiting in three Ukrainian ports with cargo and signed contracts.

An estimated 20 million tons of grain have been stuck in Ukraine since the war began. The grain release agreement brokered by the United Nations last month calls for the establishment of safe corridors through the mined waters outside of Ukrainian ports.

Delays in shipments due to war have exacerbated rising food prices around the world and threatened hunger and political instability in developing countries.

Most of the grain stuck in Ukraine is used to feed livestock, according to David Laborde, an expert at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. Only 6 million tons is wheat, and only half of that is for human consumption, Laborde said. He said the Razoni was loaded with chicken feed.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says resuming grain exports will limit Russian authorities’ ability to extort concessions from the West. “You are losing one of the opportunities to terrorize the world,” he said in his late-night video address late Tuesday.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has also disrupted power supplies in Western Europe, with Moscow drastically cutting supplies amid fears it might run out altogether.

Meanwhile, the UN nuclear chief warned that Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine is “completely out of control” and urgent steps are needed to avoid a nuclear accident.

Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday that the situation at the Zaporizhzhia plant in the southeastern city of Enerhodar, which Russian troops captured in early March, is becoming more dangerous soon every day following their invasion of Ukraine on February 24th.

“Every principle of nuclear safety has been violated,” he said in the attachment. “What is at stake is extremely serious and extremely serious and dangerous.”

He issued an urgent request to Russia and Ukraine to quickly allow experts to visit the vast complex.

Meanwhile, Russian forces continued their shelling of the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv, hitting it with shells twice in the last 24 hours – on Tuesday around 9 p.m. and on Wednesday at 5 a.m., Mykolaiv region governor Vitaliy Kim reported.

The shelling damaged a pier, an industrial establishment, residential buildings, a garage cooperative, a supermarket and a pharmacy, Kim said. It was initially unclear whether there were injuries.

Mykolayiv is a southern port city, roughly on a par with Odessa, on the Black Sea. The Russians said in April that they wanted to control not only eastern but also southern Ukraine. Taking over Odessa and Mykolayiv in the south will give them control of the entire Black Sea coast and a land corridor to Moldova’s breakaway Transnistria region.

Amid the relentless onslaught of Moscow forces, Zelenskyy ordered all who remained in the embattled Donetsk region to evacuate as soon as possible.

The forced evacuation effort aims to move 200,000 to 220,000 people out of the eastern province by the fall, officials say.


Robert Badendieck and Mehmet Guzel in Istanbul contributed to this report.


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