Ukrainian ports on the Danube river need to be protected from air attacks to rebuild trust following recent Russian strikes and ensure grain exports can continue, the general director of the Danube Commission said.
The Danube is Ukraine’s last waterborne way to export grain after access to its Black Sea ports was cut off when Russia quit a year-old safe passage grain corridor brokered by the United Nations and Turkey on July 17.
Russia destroyed Ukrainian grain warehouses on the Danube River in a drone attack on Monday, targeting a vital export route for Kyiv in an expanding air campaign that Moscow began last week after quitting the Black Sea grain deal.
Police said tanks for storing other cargo at Reni, a Ukrainian transport hub on the Danube bordering Romania, were also hit in Monday’s attack while a Romanian ship sustained damage but was able to continue on its way.
“These ports will have to be protected against attacks from the air, no matter if it’s drones or ballistic missiles,” Manfred Seitz, the general director of the Danube Commission, an intergovernmental organization which manages navigation on the river, told Reuters.
“This will certainly contribute to restore trust, and I think it would be possible to continue. To what level, we will see.”
Ukraine uses the Danube to send grain to neighbouring Romania’s Black Sea port of Constanta, and its operating capacity had been increasing prior to Monday’s strikes.
In May, Ukraine sent a record high 2.2 million tones of grain on the Danube. Before the war, its three main river ports were not used for grain.
“The efforts of Ukraine, together with the Romanian partners and the European Commission, was to increase this capacity in order to compensate for the closure of the Black Sea grain initiative, at least partially,” Seitz said.
He added operators were aiming to ship 2-3 million tons per month via the Danube before Monday’s attacks.
Romania’s Black Sea port of Constanta is Ukraine’s biggest alternative shipping route. It has handled roughly a third of Ukraine’s grain exports since the start of the war.
Source: Reuters (Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Christina Fincher)