With Ukraine taking back the strategically important Snake Island at the end of last month, alternate grain export routes are opening up. The island was taken over by Russian forces on the first day of the war on February 24, but has since been retaken. Situated about 70 nautical miles south of Odesa it is strategically important, controlling access to southern waterways, allowing inland shipments to proceed, even if Ukraine’s coastal ports all remain off limits.
Ukrainian officials said this week that eight foreign vessels have arrived to take agricultural products overseas, with the Ukrainian navy involved to ensure safe passage. Vessels can now tranship through the Bystroe Canal giving Ukrainian exports another link between the Danube and the Black Sea and relieving some of the congestion seen on the Sulina Canal, which also links the two waterways.
The port of Reni, 54 miles upstream on the northern branch of the Danube, has been reactivated and is seeing many vessel calls this week. The problem for the port is its draft, at just 3.8 meters it is very limited. Nevertheless Reni and other inland ports can tranship cargo by barge into Romania for onward transport.
Other export options are opening up for Ukraine, which is now harvesting this year’s grain crop with insufficient storage. Splash reported last week that Romania has reopened a Soviet-era rail link connecting its Danube River port of Galati to Ukraine a month earlier than originally planned. Grain cargoes coming from Ukraine via Moldova can reach Galati directly to be transferred onto barges and then further, including to the Black Sea port of Constanta. Constanta has been an important hub for Ukrainian cargoes in the opening months of the war, however, it is now operating at full capacity, both for dry bulk and containers.
Meanwhile, a port in landlocked Moldova located at the confluence of Danube and Prut rivers, is showing dramatically increased cargo volumes in the wake of war. Giurgiulesti Port, Moldova’s only commercial access to international waters, has reported cargo volumes have more than doubled to more than 800,000 tons in the first half of the year, mainly due to increasing imports of petroleum oil products, coal and fertiliser and exports of grains and vegetable oil. Construction of a new $5m terminal is now underway, due to open in the second half of next year.
Bulgaria’s Black Sea port of Varna is also positioning itself to take some of the load from Ukraine. With Constanta filling up, shippers are making more enquiries about using Varna in recent weeks. Like in Romania, the government of Bulgaria has simplified cross-border rules for trucks carrying Ukrainian import and export cargoes.
Further north, ports in Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea are also taking some Ukrainian agri-products to international markets, developing a transit corridor from Ukraine which bypasses Belarus.
Comment: The Bystroe Canal is fully within Ukrainian territory and was too risky for the passage of vessels as long as the Russians occupied Snake Island. So the opening of this canal is a solid result of having driven the Russian occupiers off that small island. It is not just bragging rights over whose flag flies over that rock.
One result of this war is the reinvigoration of these East European Black Sea and Danube ports and the further integration of Ukraine into the European economy.
Turkey, Ukraine and Russia are also still talking about allowing grain to be shipped out of Odesa. The Ukrainian Navy will be responsible for escorting ships through the mined waters. Turkey will be responsible for inspections to ensure these ships do not carry war goods to Ukraine. And Russia will refrain from attacking the grain ships. Sounds like a reasonable plan, but we’ll see.