A Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship, Razoni, carries Ukrainian grain while leaving the port of Odessa, Ukraine on 1 August 2022. (Photo credit: Oleksandr Kubrakov/ Ukraine Ministry of Infrastructure/Handout via REUTERS)
The first Ukrainian grain ship to leave the port of Odessa since the start of the Russian war in Ukraine departed on 1 August, following the signing of an agreement between Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the UN last week.
The ship is destined for Lebanon, one of the many countries undergoing a severe food shortage crisis compounded by the effects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
This is a “a day of relief for the world,” according to the Ukrainian foreign minister.
The hiatus of commercial ships being able to travel from Ukraine through the Black Sea is largely due to naval mines placed by the Ukrainian armed forces on its coasts in order to prevent Russian naval advancement.
Demining ports was a contentious point in the negotiations between Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, and the UN.
Unprecedented sanctions against Russia also exacerbated the reduction of crucial grain shipment from both Ukraine and Russia.
Several days earlier, a Syrian ship, known as Laodicea, was detained in the port of Tripoli in Lebanon due to unsubstantiated claims by Kiev. The claims alleged that the Russian-origin grains on the ship are actually ‘stolen Ukrainian grains.’
According to Reuters, a Ukrainian Embassy official in Beirut claims that “the ship has traveled from a Crimean port that is closed to international shipping, carrying 5,000 tons of barley and 5,000 tons of flour that we suspect were taken from Ukrainian stores.”
A Lebanese customs field agent who boarded the vessel told The Cradle there was no barley among the cargo, “only flour.”
A senior Lebanese customs official, speaking off the record, told The Cradle that a “huge ruckus” has broken out over the ship and its contents.
“The prime minister [Najib Mikati] contacted the customs leadership and demanded we hold the ship for investigation, while the office of the president of the republic asked us to let the ship depart to its destination to avoid trouble with the Syrians and the Russians,” he said. “This is a complete conflict in decision making. We don’t know how to act right now.”
“Now the Ukrainians have asked us to sample-test the grains, but that is not going to tell us anything. Ukraine has offered no proof that these food products are stolen, as they allege. And by law they are not allowed to make this request of us. They must bring us evidence first, and if it is compelling, only then can we undertake an investigation.”
“According to the ship’s agent who spoke directly to Tripoli customs agents, the destination of the cargo is Syria,” a Lebanese shipping source revealed. “It may be that the vessel diverted to Lebanon to avoid US sanctions – or for other reasons unknown at this time.”
Speaking with AP, an unnamed Lebanese customs official said there was “nothing wrong” with the cargo of the Laodicea vessel and that all of its papers “were in order.”
The Russian Embassy in Lebanon is set to release evidence on 1 August to prove that the grain on the detained Syrian ship is of Russian origin and not stolen from Ukrainian territories.
The Laodicea arrived at a time when Lebanon faces the dire consequences of a three-year economic meltdown.
Last week, distraught citizens in several Lebanese cities stormed bakeries and pastry shops when tensions boiled over due to the long queues for bread.