Lebanese reacted with disappointment and anger to the failure of a vanguard vessel transporting an initial cargo of Ukrainian cereals to dock at Lebanon’s northern port of Tripoli, where ceremonies were prepared to welcome the ship and its crew.
An anonymous Lebanese man spoke for many of his countrymen when he quipped on Naharnet, “Keep your wheat, dear Ukrainians”, and accused them of trying to “blackmail” Lebanon.
The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni, which left Odessa on August 1st, was set to dock on Sunday, but remains anchored off the coast of southern Turkey. This delivery to crisis-ridden Lebanon was to be the first under a deal brokered by the UN and Turkey to ease a global grain shortage that has seriously affected the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Lebanon’s caretaker transport minister Ali Hamiel announced the ship “had changed its course before it reached its destination”. Ukraine’s Beirut embassy initially said the arrival was “postponed” but an unnamed official told Agence France Presse “the ship will only go to Lebanon if a trader buys the cargo”.
Kenya-based UN adviser on food markets Shaun Ferris told the Associated Press: “Who is first in line for the grain from Ukraine could be affected by humanitarian needs but also comes down to existing business arrangements and commercial interests, including who is willing to pay the most.”
Lebanon’s parliament last month voted in favour of a $150 million (€147m) World Bank loan to buy wheat over coming months, but it is not clear whether the funds have been transferred to the cash-strapped authorities.
While some shipments have set sail for Ireland, Italy, Turkey and Britain most are meant to go to food insecure countries like Lebanon where the economy has contracted by 58 per cent since 2019, 75 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line and food inflation has soared to 122 per cent.
As Lebanon relies on Ukraine for 80 per cent of its grain Lebanese regarded the Razoni as a ship of hope and a promise of further deliveries although the cargo consisted of 26,000 tonnes of chickenfeed corn rather than wheat for bread. Shortages have forced Lebanese to queue outside bakeries to receive a daily packet of subsidised loaves of Arabic bread.
So far 243,000 tonnes of corn, 11,000 tonnes of soybeans, 6,000 tonnes of sunflower oil and 45,000 tonnes of sunflower meal have been exported by Ukraine under the deal which lifts the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea and Sea of Azov.
Due to the war Ukraine’s export of six million tonnes of grain a month has halted and 20 million tonnes from the 2021 harvest remain in silos. A second deal lifts Western sanctions on Russian grain exports, which are double Ukrainian exports. Before the war Ukrainian and Russian wheat exports made up a third of global supplies.