Traffic jams at the Romanian-Ukrainian border and a hundred ships stranded at Sulina.  How is the grain rescue mission in Ukraine going?

In the Ukrainian port of Ismail, truck drivers are queuing up with trucks full of grain, while on the other bank of the Danube, in Romania, waiting for ships to take these grain to the ports on the Black Sea, reports AFP.

Sailors do not remember ever seeing so many ships, with different flags, stationed off the port of Sulina, where they are waiting to arrive in Ukraine to be loaded with grain.

The Russian invasion has turned everything upside down, the blockade imposed by Moscow on Ukrainian seaports, starting with the one in Odessa, has paralyzed the exports of this country, which is among the world’s largest producers of cereals.

“The alternative is the Danube. But the big problem is the capacity of the infrastructure on this river “, explained Iuri Dimcioglo, former vice-president of the Odessa regional council. According to him, since the beginning of the Russian invasion, “only 1.5 million tons of grain could be exported in this way”, a drop compared to the 20 to 25 million tons of grain that are currently blocked in Ukraine. .

Ukraine grain
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, “only 1.5 million tons of grain could be exported” to the Danube, a drop compared to the 20 to 25 million tons of grain that are currently blocked in Ukraine. Photo: Profimedia Images

Right at the end of the agricultural chain, Ukrainian farmer Viaceslav Ziabkin, who works 35 kilometers from the port of Ismail, has not yet sent anything via ships on the Danube. “Not a single kilogram,” says the farmer, “because the purchase prices that were offered to him are much lower than the operating costs, and the solution on the Danube is especially suitable for small farmers who have small quantities to sell.”

And for those who resort to the Danube transport option, there are many obstacles. First of all, the traffic jams on the roads – the trucks are crowding towards the south of Ukraine in the hope that they will be able to unload the goods on the Danube. Then, once in port, there’s a crowd here too. “Before the war, I needed a day, now I need three days,” said Sergei Gavrilenko, a 45-year-old driver.

On the other hand, the number of boats that have to transport goods to customers from abroad, going down the Danube to reach the Black Sea, has also multiplied.

“We are standing from the east to the west. It is an effort for Romania “

Off the port of Sulina, there are almost a hundred ships waiting, between seven and ten days on average, before they can enter the canal in the direction of Ukrainian ports.

“It simply came to our notice then. We are standing from the east to the west “, says Gabriel Danila-Mihalcea, 28 years old, the captain of a ship that has multiplied its flights between Sulina and the Black Sea. The mission of this ship is crucial because it transfers on board each ship in the dock a pilot who will take the ship to the port of destination.

This rule was introduced in 1948 by the Convention on the Regime of Navigation on the Danube, signed in 1948, in response to the dangers of navigation on the Danube.

Mariupol port
The Russian invasion and the blockade imposed by Moscow have paralyzed exports from Ukraine, one of the world’s largest grain producers. Pictured: the port of Mariupol, conquered by Russian troops and pro-Russian separatists. Photo: Profimedia Images

“We work without a break”, complains one of the 36 pilots who have this task under the protection of anonymity. “Last month, 400 ships passed through Sulina, a record number,” said Mihai Calin, chief mechanic on a pilot ship.

“Traffic has tripled compared to May 2021”, confirms the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Transport, Ion Popa. This increase “is an effort for Romania”, Ion Popa underlines, adding that he hopes that Brussels will come to Romania’s aid.

Almost 700,000 tons of grain have been transported since the beginning of the war in Ukraine via the port of Constanta, on board barges, trains or trucks, Ion Popa points out. However, the queues at the border crossings between Ukraine and Romania are getting longer every day.

The stakes are high for many countries that depend on grain deliveries from Ukraine, which was the world’s fourth largest exporter of corn before the war, and provide 50 percent of the world’s trade in sunflower oil.

Editor: Raul Nețoiu

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