Turkey, which has been central to getting grain exports through the Black Sea over the past year, looks like it is working new ways to ensure some of the foodstuff gets out of the war-torn country.
Last month Russia decided to walk away from a shipping pact with Ukraine, an agreement that had been fostered with the help of Turkey and the United Nations. Since then Russia has been targeting Ukrainian ports and grain export infrastructure along the Black Sea coastline as well as on the Danube with no ships daring to call at Ukraine’s ports. Russian air strikes destroyed an estimated 180,000 metric tons of grain crops in the space of nine days last month, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said on Monday.
Reports of 3 civilian cargo ships sailing to Ukraine unhindered may suggest that Russia is either unwilling or unable to enforce such searches at this time,” the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C. noted. The 3 ships were carefully monitored by NATO aircraft as they sailed toward Izmail, a small Ukrainian port just across from Romania on the Danube River. The vessels presumably will load grain in Izmail then sail back into the Black Sea and onward to foreign ports.
The ships were the 1991 built, 75 metre general cargo ship Turkish owned with Sierra Leone (SLE) flag – AMS 1; 1988 built 74 metre general cargo ship, Turkish owned with Vanuatu (VUT) flag – SAHIN 2 and the Turkish-Georgian YILMAZ KAPTAN which sailed west from northern Turkey.
Overhead, no fewer than four NATO warplanes patrolled: a U.S. Navy P-8 patrol plane, a U.S. Army Challenger with a surface-scanning radar, a U.S. Air Force RQ-4 drone and an E-3 early-warning plane from NATO. None of the planes routinely carries weapons, but NATO fighters—including Italian Eurofighters and Romanian F-16s—were nearby in Romania.
The three cargo ships made no effort to obscure their intentions. They all switched on their radio transponders, making their location and course visible to anyone with access to the internet and ship-tracking websites.
The Russian Navy’s battered Black Sea Fleet, which has lost several ships to Ukrainian missiles and has been bottled up in the Black Sea since Russia widened its war on Ukraine 17 months ago, signaled it would stop, or even attack ships sailing to Ukraine.