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Lebanese buyer rejects first batch of Ukrainian grain

The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni was the first ship to set sail from Ukraine after a UN-mediated deal to unlock grain shipments
An aerial view shows the Sierra Leone-flagged cargo vessel Razoni sailing to Tripoli, Lebanon, along the Bosphorus Strait, after being officially inspected, on 3 August 2022 (AFP)

The Lebanon-based buyer of the first grain shipment to depart Ukraine since Russia’s invasion has refused to purchase the cargo, according to Ukraine’s embassy in Beirut.

The buyer has raised concerns over the quality of the grain, due to the five-month delay in its shipment. The charterer is now looking for a new buyer inside Lebanon or the Middle East, an Istanbul-based ship agent with knowledge of the matter told Middle East Eye.

“The ship owner is not happy about the case. It’s been six months of waiting. That is a big cost,” the shipping agent told MEE on condition of anonymity.

Last week, the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni, loaded with about 26,000 tonnes of corn, became the first ship to set off from a Ukrainian port since the Russian invasion. The vessel left under the safe passage of a UN-proposed deal struck between Moscow and Kyiv and brokered by Turkey.

As part of the agreement signed last month, a joint command centre (JCC) was set up in Istanbul with personnel from the United Nations, Russia, Ukraine, and Turkey to monitor the shipments of foodstuffs.

Russia and Ukraine account for nearly a third of global wheat exports and the war in Ukraine has led to a worldwide food and energy crisis.

The effects of the shortages have been particularly devastating in the Middle East. In Lebanon alone, Russia and Ukraine accounted for more than 70 percent of wheat imports before the war. Food inflation in the tiny Mediterranean country hit 122 percent this year.

The wheat shortage in Lebanon has forced people to wait long hours outside of bakeries for subsidised bread, with brawls breaking out among frustrated citizens.

The shipping agent said it was possible the Lebanese buyer was trying to renegotiate the price. The Razoni was set to arrive in Lebanon on Sunday, but is currently anchored off Turkey’s southern coast.

Another three ships loaded with grain set sail from Ukraine on Friday, heading for Turkey and markets in Ireland and Britain. A further 13 are waiting to depart.

The agent said they didn’t expect the other shipments to be rejected because the cargo had been recently loaded, unlike the grain in the Razoni.

A UN official, speaking with MEE on condition of anonymity, said they couldn’t comment on commercial activity as the JCC’s role is to ensure the safe transit of vessels carrying grain shipments from Ukraine.