Ukraine, its neighbours and parts of the rest of the world are desperately looking for alternatives to Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. In particular, there is a focus on getting agri-bulk logistics functioning at higher volumes due to Ukraine’s importance in supplying wheat and other grains to developing economies.

David Beasley, the Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme, said on Friday that at present “Ukraine’s grain silos are full. At the same time, 44 million people around the world are marching towards starvation. We have to open up these ports so that food can move in and out of Ukraine. The world demands it because hundreds of millions of people globally depend on these supplies.”

A little surprisingly bearing in mind there is a war in their country, Ukrainian farmers continue to produce substantial volumes of foodstuffs, with wheat production said to be down by just a third compared to 2021, at 20m tonnes. It is hard to be sure, however, as various reports suggest that agri-bulk throughput volumes through Ukrainian ports have fallen by 90% to around 500,000 tonnes a month. Even this is surprisingly high given the leading port in Odessa is under bombardment by the Russian air force. The situation in Mariupol, which is another substantial port, is even worse.

The main obstacle to the functioning of the ports is a blockade by the Russian Black Sea fleet. Despite losses inflicted on Russian ships by the Ukrainians, the blockade shows no sign of being lifted.

Yet agri-bulk is being exported and the main transport mode being used seems to be road. Rail freight links to Poland are being used to an extent, however, Ukraine uses a broad rail gauge, which Poland does not, and whilst this is not an insurmountable problem it requires additional infrastructure to deal with. The railway is also more vulnerable to Russian attacks. As ever road freight is emerging as the most flexible solution, with a shortage of trucks and drivers being one of the few constraints.

It appears that the emerging solution is to move the agri-bulk by road to Poland and Romania and then to ship the cargoes out of the ports of the Baltic, in particular Gdansk, but also Constanza on the Black Sea. Both ports have substantial agri-bulk capacity, however, adding several tens of millions of tonnes of additional volume through bulk terminals might represent a short-term issue.

Source. Transport Intelligence, 10th May, 2022

Author: Thomas Cullen

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