Caught in Russia-Ukraine storm: a cargo ship and tonnes of grain | Reuters
Cranes and ships are seen in the Azov Sea port of Berdyansk, Ukraine November 30, 2018. Picture taken November 30, 2018.
When the Island Bay cargo ship arrived from Beirut at the Kerch Strait, gateway to the Azov Sea, it sailed into a perfect storm of geopolitics and bad weather.
The following day, Russia opened fire on three Ukrainian naval ships, impounded them and detained their sailors, some of them wounded. It then blocked the strait by putting a tanker underneath a new bridge it has built linking the Russian mainland to the Crimean peninsula it annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
While the world digested the implications of the Nov. 25 incident, the most explosive clash in recent years, Russia said it had reopened the channel to the Azov Sea, which is shared by Russia and Ukraine.
But Island Bay remained at anchor outside the strait, lashed by gale force winds and sleet, its hull icing over while cargo ships amassed on either side.
On Monday, a week on, the captain reported seeing 20 vessels awaiting clearance to cross. Refinitiv data that day also showed 20 Ukraine-bound vessels held up at the strait since Nov. 25, with two others allowed through.
Meanwhile, Island Bay’s cargo of 5,500 tonnes of wheat, destined for flour mills in Libya, waited in the Ukrainian port of Berdyansk.
In Berdyansk’s port, where icy winds had recently ripped off the roof of a nearby shed, staff of stevedore company Ascet Shipping were reading the daily reports from the Island Bay with growing concern.
Ascet loads almost a million tonnes of Ukrainian grain a year onto cargo ships in Berdyansk and was waiting to load the Island Bay; its size means each day of waiting time costs around $2,000-$2,500, Ascet’s chief executive, Denis Rusin, said.
This has made Berdyansk an unpopular port in recent months.
“Ship owners do not want to go to Berdyansk,” said Rusin, whose clients include U.S. firm Cargill [CARG.UL], one of the world’s largest dry bulk and tank shipping companies. “Buyers are refusing to bet on passage.”