The biggest caravan of ships carrying grain and other agricultural products since the beginning of the Russian invasion has sailed from Ukrainian ports on Sunday, heading to Europe, Asia and the Middle East through the mined waters of the Black Sea.
According to the United Nations, the four ships leaving what was one of the world’s breadbaskets carried more than 160,000 metric tons — about 176,000 U.S. tons — of agricultural products.
Ismini Palla, a spokeswoman for the United Nations, said that the ships were carrying 6,000 metric tons of sunflower oil to Italy, 45,000 metric tons of meal to China, 66,000 metric tons of sunflower oil to Iran, and 44,000 metric tons of corn to the Turkish city of Iskenderun.
She said all the ships would be anchored north of Istanbul and would be inspected by the Joint Coordination Center, an office where senior representatives from Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations work together to enable the safe transportation of grain, food and fertilizers.
According to the Turkish Ministry of Defense, one ship departed from Odesa and three from the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk. One empty ship, the Fulmar S, also entered Ukrainian territorial waters on Saturday, the first vessel to arrive in Ukraine for loading, Oleksandr Kubrakov, Ukraine’s infrastructure minister, said in a tweet.
Pope Francis said the vessels’ departure was a “sign of hope.”
“This step demonstrates that it is possible to dialogue and to reach concrete results for everyone’s benefit,” he said in his Sunday blessing in St. Peter’s Square.
The operation was part of a deal struck in late July to enable more than 20 million tons of Ukrainian products to leave the embattled country to be distributed around the world, generating revenue for Ukraine and helping stem a looming global hunger crisis.
Four other ships have already left in the past week carrying more than 80,000 metric tons of products to be delivered to Britain, Ireland and Turkey and Lebanon. On Sunday the Ukrainian Embassy in Lebanon, where the first boat, the Razoni, was expected to arrive, told Reuters that the ship was being delayed.
Mr. Kubrakov said that the government was gradually moving on to enable ports to handle larger volumes of work, aiming for at least 100 vessels a month in the near future.
Experts have said that the issues affecting food markets are far from being solved, with a food crisis that has already grown to such proportions that no single intervention can solve it.
Still, the United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, said delivering Ukrainian stores of grain was a “humanitarian imperative” that he hoped would “bring much-needed stability and relief to global food security.”
Nimet Kiraç contributed reporting.