International officials monitoring seaborne grain exports from war-torn Ukraine are preparing to carry out checks on the first ship sailing under a UN-backed safe-passage scheme.
The 29,300-dwt Razoni (built 1996) is to anchor at around midnight local time off Istanbul, where a Joint Coordination Centre (JCC) of Ukrainian, Russian, Turkish and UN officials is based.
After an inspection to ensure that the ship carries nothing but grain, the Razoni will continue on its way to Lebanon, rear admiral Ozcan Altunbulak, a Turkish JCC official, told reporters in a briefing in Istanbul on Tuesday.
The ship may arrive well ahead of time. Vessel trackers showed it just north of Istanbul anchorage as early as 1343 GMT.
More ships are in the pipeline to follow the Razoni’s footsteps and depart from the blocked harbours of Odesa, Chornomorsk and Yuzhny.
“Preparations and planning of ships that can take out grain and similar foodstuffs from Ukraine’s three ports are continuing,” Altunbulak said.
Information about the Razoni itself and its cargo remain surprisingly scarce.
IHS Markit shows the Sierra Leone-flagged vessel as managed by Razoni Shipping a one-ship company without any contact details, registered four years ago in Liberia and based in Tuzla, near Istanbul.
The vessel may be controlled by interests based outside Turkey. According to market sources in Istanbul, the Razoni was bought by Syrians a few years ago.
Circumstantial evidence, such as the ship’s discharge point in Tripoli, Lebanon, point to Syria as well.
The Economist has already reported on 1 August that the ship’s master is Syrian. According to Reuters, a crew member that sent out a videotaped message before the vessel left Odesa on Monday, is Syrian as well.
Some media reported that the Razoni has been hired by the UN’s humanitarian World Food Programme (WFP).
A WFP official contacted by TradeWinds, however, said this information is not correct.
The WFP is nevertheless a hot candidate to provide one of the next ships to leave Ukraine under the safe-passage scheme.
The Rome-based organisation said on 1 August that it was planning to purchase, load and ship an initial 30,000 tonnes of wheat out of Ukraine on a UN-chartered vessel.
Spokesman Steve Taravella told TradeWinds the UN agency was not behind the Razoni shipment, noting that the agreement that it was shipped under covered commercial rather than humanitarian grain cargoes.
He said WFP is working separately to arrange additional transportation for its 30,000 tonnes of grain “as soon as possible”, though he acknowledged that is challenging.
“As you can imagine, given the context, in the middle of a conflict, there’s a lot to coordinate,” he said.
Eric Priante Martin contributed to this story.