Ukraine asks Romanian Port to permit ship-to-ship grain transfers

Ukraine’s Danube Shipping Company (DSC) has asked the authorities at the port of Constanta, Romania, to allow ship-to-ship grain transfers, The DSC said on Monday September 18th that this would almost double its barge export capacity.

Ukraine’s 2023 grain output is now being predicted to reach up to 56m tonnes, but getting it out of the country is proving increasingly complex.

The Black sea ports were effectively blockaded for several months until August 2022, at which point the Black Sea Grain Corridor Initiative (BSGCI) enabled a proportion of the grain to leave via the Black Sea and Istanbul, albeit at a slow pace. Elsewhere rail and river routes up the Danube moved from being niche facilities to ones of considerable significance to the Ukrainian export effort.

Ukraine’s Danube river ports, which previously accounted for around a quarter of grain exports, have become the main route out for the country’s harvest. Some of this is sent on barges to Constanta for onwards shipment.

Ukraine exported 8.1m tonnes of grain through Constanta in the first seven months of 2023, which was more than for the whole of 2022. That number included grain delivered to port silos by road and rail.

Romania’s Transport Minister Sorin Grindeanu said last week that Romania’s plan to double the monthly transit capacity for Ukrainian grain through Constanta to 4m tonnes was still achievable.

DSC said on social media that 60% of the grain export flow through Constanta was by river fleet, with barges delivering more than 700,000 tons of agricultural products to the Romanian port every month. However, DSC said that it currently had around 600 barges at Constanta, with waiting times for unloading in port sometimes stretching to up to 60 days. The solution, it said, would be to allow STS transfers. “If Constanta allows the development of…transshipment, the rivermen are ready to increase the volumes by another 500,000 tons,” it said.

DSC said it had a project to set up three more anchorages near Constanta, one of which should be assigned to Ukraine. It was ready to create a Ukrainian port operator in Constanta. Ukrainian seaport authorities said last month that the country had started work on alternative export opportunities for its grain crop by organising transshipments near the mouth of Danube. It said that the government had adopted a resolution to formally expand the boundaries of one of Ukraine’s Danube ports to make it possible to transfer cargo between anchored vessels.

However, the geopolitical implications of assigning an anchorage near Constanta to Ukraine could be more complex than the practical engineering work.