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Ship carrying first Ukraine grain cargo nears Syria: Sources

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The first ship to depart Ukraine under a UN-brokered deal to resume grain exports from the country two weeks ago was approaching the Syrian port of Tartous on Sunday, two shipping sources said.

The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni set sail from Ukraine's Odesa port on August 1 under the deal between Moscow and Kyiv, brokered by the UN and Turkey.

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The cargo of 26,000 tons of corn had originally been destined for Lebanon, which has been suffering a severe economic crisis that has made led to food insecurity for about half of its population.

However, the original buyer refused the delivery over quality concerns and the ship sailed to Turkey, docking in Mersin on August 11.

When it set sail again the following day, it did not keep its transponder on. Two shipping sources, one of them in Tartous, confirmed to Reuters on Sunday that the ship was approaching the northwest Syrian port.

The Ukrainian embassy in Lebanon had no immediate comment on the ship's destination.

It has previously accused Syria of importing at least 150,000 tons of grain it said was plundered from Ukrainian warehouses after Russia's invasion in February.

Ukraine cut off diplomatic ties with Syria in June after Damascus recognized the independence of the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

UN-chartered ship readies to depart Ukraine for Africa

The UN-chartered ship Brave Commander will depart Ukraine for Africa in coming days after it finishes loading more than 23,000 metric tons of wheat in the Ukrainian port of Pivdennyi, a UN official said.

The ship, which arrived in the port near Odesa, will sail to Ethiopia via a grain corridor through the Black Sea brokered by the UN and Turkey in late July.

It will be the first humanitarian food aid cargo bound for Africa since Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24 under the framework of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

Denise Brown, UN Resident Coordinator in Ukraine, told reporters the grain was urgently needed in Ethiopia, and the UN would work to ensure continued shipments to countries around Africa that are facing famine and sharply higher food prices.

“On a very, very personal note, for any mothers who might be listening, seeing hunger in a child is very painful. Hunger, malnutrition is physically very, very painful,” Brown, who was previously posted in the Central African Republic, told reporters. “It's up to all of us to help these children.”

The cargo was funded with donations from the UN World Food Programme (WFP), the U.S. Agency for International Development and several private donors.

“The world needs the food of Ukraine. This is the beginning of what we hope is normal operations for the hungry people of the world,” Marianne Ward, WFP deputy country director, told reporters. The relief agency purchased more than 800,000 tons of grain in Ukraine last year.

Ukrainian authorities have not released details on when the Brave Commander will sail or when it will arrive in Ethiopia, citing security concerns.

A total of 16 ships have now departed from Ukraine, according to authorities there, following the deal with Russia to allow a resumption of grain exports from Ukraine's Black Sea ports, after they were stalled for five months due to the war.

“We look at this ... in a very positive way. We're optimistic,” Brown told Reuters in a separate interview.

The agreement was reached last month amid fears that the loss of Ukrainian grain supplies would lead to severe food shortages and even outbreaks of famine in parts of the world.

Brown said the authorities were looking at using rail to augment the shipments of grain, and the Ukrainian agriculture ministry also plans to open a new truck route to Poland.

Ukraine has some 20 million tons of grain left over from last year's crop, while this year's wheat harvest is also estimated at 20 million tons.

So far most of the cargoes under the deal have carried grain for animal feed or for fuel.

As part of the UN deal, all ships are inspected in Istanbul by the Joint Coordination Centre, where Russia, Ukrainian, Turkish and UN personnel work.

Read more:

New buyer sought for first grain to leave Ukraine under deal

First Ukraine grain shipment’s arrival in Lebanon ‘postponed’

First export of wheat under UN deal as two more ships depart Ukraine

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