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Ukraine: First cargo ship exits Odesa after Russia's threat

August 16, 2023

Ukraine said the first commercial cargo ship has left the port through a "humanitarian corridor" after Moscow threatened to sink such vessels. The ship set sail despite a new bombardment along the Danube River.

The Joseph Schulte cargo ship
The container ship Joseph Schulte leaves the port of Odesa to proceed through the temporary corridorImage: Ukraine's Infrastructure Ministry Press Office/AP/picture alliance

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday hailed the first cargo ship to depart Ukraine using a new Black Sea corridor for civilian vessels. 

"Ukraine has just made an important step toward restoring the freedom of navigation in the Black Sea," despite warnings from Moscow that its navy could target vessels, Zelenskyy said on social media.

The ship successfully crossed the Ukrainian part of the Black Sea late Wednesday, several hours after leaving the southern port of Odesa.

Russia had warned that it could sink civilian vessels traveling to and from Ukraine after Moscow withdrew from a deal allowing the export of grain via the Black Sea.

Ukraine calls Russia's bluff on Black Sea ships

What do we know about the ship?

The Hong Kong-flagged vessel, the Joseph Schulte, had been trapped at Odesa's port since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

It is carrying more than 2,100 containers with about 30,000 metric tons of cargo, according to Ukraine, and is initially heading for the Turkish city of Istanbul.

Ukraine last week announced a "humanitarian corridor" in the Black Sea to release cargo ships that have been trapped in its ports since Moscow's invasion.

German shipping group Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement (BSM) said the ship, which it jointly owns with a Chinese bank, was traveling via the territorial waters of Ukraine, Romania, and Turkey "to allow for a safe passage of southbound vessels." The nature of the cargo was not specified by BSM.

Attack on Danube port

As a sign of the risks involved, over the weekend a Russian warship fired warning shots at a cargo ship heading for Izmail, a port on the Danube in southern Ukraine directly opposite NATO and European Union member Romania.

Izmail has become one of the main exit routes for Ukrainian agricultural products since Moscow ended the agreement on grain exports, a source of revenue for Kyiv, in July.

The Russian army also continued to target the Danube port infrastructure with its bombardments, launching another drone attack on Tuesday night.

"As a result of enemy strikes on one of the Danube ports, grain warehouses have been damaged," Odessa's regional governor, Oleg Kiper, announced. On Wednesday, Romania strongly condemned the new Russian attacks on Izmail after several strikes in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, authorities in the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta told the Reuters news agency that Ukraine had shipped 8.1 million metric tons of grains through the port in the first seven months of the year.

The Black Sea: A new zone of conflict

rc/sms (Reuters, AFP)