Romania Bids to Clear Danube Logjam after Ukraine Attack

August 3, 2023

© BGStock72 / Adobe Stock
© BGStock72 / Adobe Stock

Romania expects around 30 ships from Ukraine to clear customs on the Danube River over the next two days as it bids to clear a logjam in the aftermath of Wednesday's Russian attack on Ukraine's main river port at Izmail.

The river and its mouth, now Ukraine's last waterborne grain export route, are backed up with vessels travelling to and from Ukrainian ports, commercial ship tracking data shows.

Romanian authorities managing the waterway still expect a "peak" in traffic in August, despite the attack, an official said.

Russia has attacked the agricultural and port infrastructure of Ukraine, one of the world's top grain exporters, for more than two weeks after refusing to extend a year-old safe passage grain corridor brokered by the United Nations and Turkey - effectively shutting Ukraine's Black Sea ports.

Before Russia pulled out of the safe passage corridor, the Danube ports accounted for around a quarter of Ukraine's grain exports.

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said Russia's attacks on Ukraine's civilian infrastructure on the Danube amounted to war crimes. Ukraine's prosecutor general's office said in a statement sent to Reuters that it was investigating the attacks on its agriculture infrastructure as potential war crimes.

Florin Uzumtoma, the navigation director for Romania's Danube administration agency, told Reuters: "We are trying to handle these clusters as best we can, to relieve navigation congestion on the Danube."

"We will clear around 30 ships in two days, at least 12 today, if not 14, and the rest tomorrow."

Uzumtoma said the administration cleared record high numbers of ships coming from Ukrainian inland ports in May and June, of over 477 per month.

"May and June were peaks, and we expect August to have a peak as well, despite everything," he said.

Apart from the vessels waiting close to the Romanian port of Constanta, at least 20 commercial ships had stopped in the Danube channel leading up to the Ukrainian port of Izmail, tracking data from analytics company MarineTraffic showed on Thursday.

A further 30 ships had dropped anchor around Musura Bay in the Black Sea, which leads into a separate channel that links up with Izmail further along the waterway, the data showed.

A Ukrainian industry source told Reuters that the Romanian side has not yet allowed new ships to enter the Danube, citing poor weather conditions.

Insurance
The drone strikes on Izmail have already impacted the appetite of at least two underwriters who have paused cover for shipments through the Danube, two insurance sources said.

Industry sources have told Reuters war risk cover for Ukraine's ports that were part of the previous grain deal had already been suspended.

Ukraine will insure ships that import and exports goods through the Danube and is considering the possibility of providing cover for ships going through the "grain corridor", news agency Interfax-Ukraine reported on Thursday, citing Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal.

"We understand that if the Russians sink or blow up any merchant vessel, it will enormously complicate our work to attract partners to the 'grain corridor'," Shmyhal was quoted as saying.

Ukrainian farm minister Mykola Solsky told national TV on Thursday that trading companies have significantly changed their logistic procedures in the Danube ports, taking into account the recent attacks.

Insurance and industry sources said on Thursday that Ukraine had approached trading companies and parts of the insurance industry to see what was feasible to ensure continued trade.

"The Danube trade is being impacted and there is talk of floating mines (in that channel)," one trade source active in the region said.

"The situation is scary with the drone strikes, so close to a NATO border (with Romania)."


(Reuters - Reporting by Luiza Ilie, Jonathan Saul and Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Peter Graff and Conor Humphries)

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