“Recapturing of Snake Island opens new grain export routes for Ukraine” – TTG

Source: Lloyd’s List Intelligence / Seasearcher

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.




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12 Responses to “Recapturing of Snake Island opens new grain export routes for Ukraine” – TTG

  1. MapleLeaf says:

    That does sound like a reasonable plan. With all the droughts and poor harvests across the world, the world needs that food.

    I’ve heard rumours that food will spike another 10-20% in August alone, I hope that doesn’t come to pass…

  2. d74 says:

    I don’t discuss the article but I note some amusing details:

    -Ukraine did not take over the island. They drove the Russians off it. Hard to confuse this with that. The island is therefore a no man’s land. Whoever tries to settle there for more than a few hours gets massacred. It can change, and quickly, but that’s how it is.

    -The Ukrainian Navy is a joke. During the operations in the Black Sea-Crimea in 1943, the Germans sent speedboats and coastal submarines across the Danube. Nato could do it again. And if Romania agreed to the transfer of some of its ships to Ukraine, we could see a resurrection of this navy. I imagine that a rubber or fiberglass boat could be qualified as an escort, stream not blue water.

    -The mines are Ukrainian, and probably only Ukrainian. Normal, they protect their coast and the Russians do not forbid themselves a landing on the Odessa side. However, the orins would have to be stronger.

    • Worth Pointing Out says:

      TTG has it right in saying that the Russians were forced off the island, without claiming that the Ukrainians have retaken it. So he makes the same distinction that you do.

      The original article does make that claim, which is nonsense: any Ukrainian installation on that island will be as exposed as the Russian garrison was.

      I don’t understand this claim: “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.”

      What did the Russians install on Snake Island that posed a uniquely dangerous threat to commercial vessels plying along that canal?

      Artillery? How would they keep up the ammo supply?
      Missiles? Why put them on Snake Island, where they are exposed?

      If the Russians had intended to damage that canal or attack commercial vessels sailing through it they have plenty of other options at their disposal, and still do.

      It all reeks of some attempt to claim an importance to the carrying on over Snake Island than it ever really deserved.

      A commercial vessel sails through Bystroe Canal and reaches the Black Sea. And then….. what, exactly? If the Russians mean it harm then they still have many means of harming it, and its chances of reaching its next port of call is close to zero. Evacuating Snake Island doesn’t change that at all.

      • TTG says:


        The Bystroe Canal is just one of three canals through the Danube Delta. Traffic continued to flow through the other two canals, but it was limited because of their size and depth. These canals are separate from the main Danube canal linking the river with Constanta. The opening of the Bystroe more than doubles the amount of ship traffic able to pass through the delta.

        Any traffic going through the Bystroe was passing through Ukrainian territory and was subject to attacks from Snake Island. Russia already put Grad and Tornado MLRS on the island along with Tor and Pantsir AD systems. The threat was real. The shippers and their insurers were well aware of that threat. Sure the Russians can still attack ships or ports along that canal, but it would be a lot more difficult without the MLRS emplacements and AD umbrella provided by Snake Island.

        Commercial traffic in the Black Sea from the ports of Constanta and Varna still flows unimpeded. That includes ships carrying Ukrainian grain and other commodities. That was true even when Russia occupied Snake Island. Russia does not appear eager to widen the war to Romania, Bulgaria or international shipping in general.

      • joe90 says:

        TTG is not right, the Russians left because there was no point in staying. Why they went there in the first place instead of just bombing the place I will leave to others to explain/justify.

  3. rjh says:

    The most obvious threat is targeting information. Snake Island is about 35km from the entrance of Bystroe Canal. Ships would not be able to sneak out. (I don’t know the shipping channels. The ships might have to get much closer to the island on their way out.)

    Second, if given enough time to build robust bunkers, anti-ship missiles and even artillery could be installed. Throwing off the troops is a way of keeping the Russians from building such bunkers.

  4. Fred says:

    Are any insurance companies stepping up to insure any of those grain shipments? Maybe that oligarch who put Zelinsky into power would like to risk some of his money on that project?

  5. joe90 says:

    The reason why grain could not be exported by ship (60% was exported by land to the EU) was because the Ukrainians mined their own ports! But whatever.

  6. Mitch says:

    This minuscule island is not strategic indeed but purely symbolic. Ukranians desperately need some sort of claimed victory, any victory, to keep the weapons and subsidies flowing in.

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