Romania could double its monthly transit of Ukrainian grain to its Black Sea port of Constanta to 4M tonnes in the coming months – particularly via the Danube River informed country’s minister of transport.

The increased capacity could be achieved could by hiring extra staff to ease the passage of vessels into the Danube’s Sulina canal and by finalising connecting infrastructure projects — many of them EU-funded, Romanian Transport Minister Sorin Grindeanu told reporters after a meeting with representatives of the EU, the USA, Moldova and Ukraine in the Danube town of Galati.

Ukraine is one of the world’s top grain exporters, and Russia has been targeting its agricultural and port infrastructure following its 17 July withdrawal from the Black Sea Grain Initiative (BSGI) brokered by the United Nations (UN) and Turkey.

The initiative had allowed for the safe passage of 33M tonnes of grains and other foodstuffs from Ukrainian ports following Russia’s invasion last February and subsequent blockade of ports, which had halted exports, World Grain wrote.

Recent Russian attacks have targeted Ukraine’s inland Danube ports of Reni and Izmail.

Before Russia’s withdrawal from the BSGI, the Danube ports accounted for about 25% of Ukraine’s grain exports, the 15 August report said. Grain is loaded onto barges, shipped downriver through the territorial waters of the EU and NATO-member Romania, and onwards from Romania’s Black Sea port of Constanta.

“I have underlined the importance of Romanian rail, road and naval transport routes to maintain a constant flow for Ukrainian exports,” Grindeanu was quoted as saying.

“It [the meeting] will lead us through the agreed measures to raise grain transit capacity from over 2M tonnes/month at present to almost 4M tonnes in the coming months.”

Grindeanu said Romania’s Danube administration agency would have 60 pilots to take ships in and out of the Sulina canal by the end of August.

In addition, an EU-funded project to make sailing possible at night on Sulina was expected to be completed in October.

Following the investments and increased staffing levels, the Romanian ports of Galati and Braila would be used alongside Reni and Izmail, Grindeanu added.

Against this backdrop, Ukraine exported 3.39M tonnes of agricultural products in July 2023 – the first month of the 2023/24 season – according to preliminary data quoted in a 15 August report by UkrAgroConsult.

This was 31% lower than the 4.86M tonnes exported in June 2023 – the last month of the previous season, the 15 August report said.

According to the report, the termination of the BSGI reduced Ukraine’s export volumes to the lowest monthly level since last July, when 2.8M tonnes were exported.

The route is intended to cover commercial vessels operating in the region, with particular focus on vessels that have spent the duration of the conflict stuck in port, according to the 16 August report.

The Hong Kong-flagged container ship, Joseph Schulte, had been stuck in Ukraine after arriving in port the day before the Russian invasion on 24 February 2022, the Ministry of Infrastructure was quoted as saying in a note.

It had left carrying up to 30,000 tonnes of cargo, including food, according to the minister.

At the time of opening the humanitarian corridor, Ukrainian naval forces said vessels would only be allowed to use the corridors if their owners or captains officially confirmed their willingness to ship in the current conditions or were prepared to accept the risk.