KYIV -- As the first shipment of Ukrainian grain since the Russian invasion in February left the port of Odesa on Monday (August 1), world officials expressed hope for those hardest hit by Moscow's naval blockade in the Black Sea.
United Nations (UN) chief António Guterres, who brokered the plan along with Turkey, welcomed the announcement while Kyiv said it would bring "relief for the world" if Moscow held up its side of the accord.
The five-month halt of deliveries from war-torn Ukraine -- one of the world's biggest grain exporters -- has contributed to soaring food prices, hitting the world's poorest nations especially hard.
Officials said the Razoni cargo ship, registered in Sierra Leone, was making its way through a specially cleared corridor in the mine-infested waters of the Black Sea with 26,000 tonnes of maize on board.
It was originally expected to arrive in Istanbul early on Tuesday afternoon.
The vessel made its way along the Romanian coast overnight but switched off its automatic identification system at about 2300 Greenwich Mean Time, meaning it could no longer be tracked, according to the Marine Traffic website.
Ankara did not immediately provide any explanation for the move.
The Razoni had initially progressed very slowly at just seven knots in Ukrainian waters due to possible mines but was then able to pick up speed, Marine Traffic said.
The Turkish Defence Ministry revised the estimated arrival time for the ship in Istanbul to "after midnight" on Tuesday.
"It will then continue its journey after it has been inspected in Istanbul," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Other convoys will follow, respecting the maritime corridor and the agreed formalities, it said.
Ships waiting to leave
Last month, Ukraine and Russia signed the breakthrough pact -- the first significant accord involving the warring sides since the invasion -- with Turkey and the UN. It is aimed at getting millions of tonnes of trapped Ukrainian grain to world markets.
But Russian strikes on the Odesa port the day after the deal was signed sparked outrage from Ukraine's allies and cast doubt over the accord.
Guterres, according to a UN statement, "hopes that this will be the first of many commercial ships moving in accordance with the initiative signed, and that this will bring much-needed stability and relief to global food security, especially in the most fragile humanitarian contexts".
"Ensuring that existing grain and foodstuffs can move to global markets is a humanitarian imperative," he said.
The World Food Programme is planning to "purchase, load and ship an initial 30,000 metric tons of wheat out of Ukraine on a UN-chartered vessel," and there will be further details in the coming days, he added.
Monday marked a "day of relief for the world, especially for our friends in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, as the first Ukrainian grain leaves Odesa after months of Russian blockade", Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Monday.
The long-awaited consignment, however, is just the beginning of a backlog, and Ukraine Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said 16 more ships were already "waiting for their turn" to leave Odesa.
"These are the ships that were blocked from the beginning of Russia's full-scale invasion," he said, adding that new requests for ships to dock and load were coming continuously.
"We are planning to reach full efficiency at of shipments of agricultural products during the following weeks," he added.
Brussels still expects the "implementation of the whole deal and resumption of Ukrainian exports to the customers around the world", European Union spokesman Peter Stano said.
He blamed the food shortages gripping parts of the Middle East and Africa on "the unprovoked Russian aggression on February 24 and the blocking of Ukrainian ports and grain exports".
Western allies "strongly support the full implementation of the deal to ease the global food crisis caused by Russia's war in Ukraine", NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said separately.
For Central Asian countries, namely those in the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU or EAEU), the food crisis has been compounded by Russian grain protectionism.
At a May 20 meeting of the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC), the regulatory body of the EEU, Russia insisted that all members of the bloc introduce quotas and duties on grain exports to third countries, the Russian business newspaper Kommersant reported.
The Russian government in mid-March introduced a temporary ban on grain exports, including wheat, meslin, rye, barley and corn, to EEU countries "to protect the domestic food market in the face of external restrictions".
The ban ended on June 30.
In addition, according to Stano, Russia is "destroying the fields in Ukraine, destroying the silos in Ukraine, burning the grain or looting and trying to sell it on behalf of Russia".
Russia is not only blocking ports but hauling away grain from Ukrainian territory it holds, Mykola Vinichenko, deputy director of the Directorate of Agro-Industrial Development in Zaporizhzhia province, said in June.
Zaporizhzhia has more than 130,000 tonnes of grain that Russian forces already have begun stealing and exporting, he said.
"They come to the storage elevator and say the owners can ship out grain but only to Crimea. If the owner doesn't show up, that means it's free for the taking. They just load it onto trucks and take it," he said.
Western officials have long deemed Russia's demands for the removal of international sanctions in exchange for unblocking Ukrainian grain exports tantamount to blackmail and a grain war.
"This is all deliberate," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a virtual roundtable discussion in Washington on June 6.
"[Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin is stopping food from being shipped and aggressively using his propaganda machine to deflect or distort responsibility because he hopes it'll get the world to give in to him and end the sanctions ... it's blackmail," he said.