Ukraine has suspended the use of its new Black Sea grain export corridor due to a possible threat from Russian warplanes and sea mines, the Kyiv-based Barva Invest consultancy and a British security firm said on Thursday.
Ukraine has been using the shipping corridor to try to revive its seaborne exports without Russia’s blessing, defying threats from Moscow which quit a U.N.-brokered deal in July that had allowed some food exports to flow despite the war.
“We would like to inform you of a temporary suspension of vessel traffic to and from (the ports). The current ban is in force on Oct. 26, but it is possible that it will be extended,” the consultancy said on the Telegram messaging app.
Ukrainian officials declined to comment on the matter.
Chicago wheat futures , a global price benchmark, turned higher on the news to recover from an earlier two-week low. They later traded up about 1%.
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Wheat futures had been pressured this week by hopes that Ukraine would expand grain exports, as well as rain relief in dry crop belts worldwide.
Barva Invest, which specialises in Ukraine’s agriculture sector, said a de facto suspension had already been in place for two days at the behest of Kyiv’s military which had cited a threat from increased Russian air force activity in the area.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that he had ordered Russian warplanes with Kinzhal missiles to patrol the Black Sea.
British maritime security company Ambrey said in a report that the Ukrainian Seaport Authority issued a communique late on Wednesday, noting “there would be no vessel movement along the corridor for entry and exit on 26th of October, 2023.”
The suspension was prompted by Russian Air Force operations in the region, it said.
“On October 25th, Ambrey informed its clients that the Russian Air Force had dropped at least four objects, likely acoustic and/or magnetic sea mines, into the Ukrainian grain corridor transit area near Snake Island, Ukraine,” it said.
Ukrainian forces were likely conducting operations to locate and destroy the sea mines, it said.
Ukraine launched a “humanitarian corridor” for ships bound for African and Asian markets in August to try to circumvent a de facto blockade in the Black Sea after Russia quit a deal that had guaranteed Kyiv’s seaborne exports during the war.
Later, a senior agricultural official said the route – which runs along Ukraine’s southwest Black Sea coast, into Romanian territorial waters and onwards to Turkey, would also be used for grain shipments.
About 700,000 tons of grain have left Ukrainian ports via the new route since it began operating in August. Ukraine shipped up to six million tons of grain a month from its Black Sea ports before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Ukrainian officials and shipping sources say over 40 cargo vessels have entered the corridor so far and 1.5 million metric tons of cargo in all have left Ukrainian ports that way. Grain, oilseed, vegetable oils and sunflower, soybean and rapeseed meal have dominated the shipments.
Ukrainian agricultural producers this week said the new route could enable exports of up to 2.5 million tons of food a month, almost offsetting the impact of Russia’s decision to quit the previous U.N.-mediated deal.
The first deputy farm minister, Taras Vysotskiy, said on Wednesday grain shipments through the corridor could exceed one million tons in October.