Stock Groups

Analysis-The sea mines floating between Ukraine’s grain stocks and the world -Breaking


© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: The Ukrainian flag is shown covered with grain in the illustration, taken May 9, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Jonathan Saul

LONDON, (Reuters) – As the United Nations tries negotiate a way for Ukraine to import grain and worries about a worldwide food crisis are simmering in some quarters of the world, there is a real problem with hundreds of mines located along the Black Sea. It will be months before any deal can be reached.

Shipping grain, oil, and other products is essential to the Black Sea. These waters are shared with Russia, Bulgaria, Georgia, Turkey and Georgia.

According to officials from Ukraine, 20 million tonnes are currently unable to move to what used to be the fourth-largest exporter in the world before Russia invaded on February 24.

Western leaders as well as Kyiv have accused Moscow of deliberately obstructing Ukrainian ports and weaponizing food supplies. Russia stated that it wanted Western sanctions lifted to allow for exports.

But even if any agreement was reached and Ukraine’s ports were able to re-open, the danger from sea mines planted by Ukraine and Russia will hold up shipments potentially for months ahead, according to maritime officials.

According to a U.N. spokesperson, the International Maritime Organization (one of many bodies involved in establishing maritime passageways for grain supplies), “Seamines have been laid at port approaches”

“Completely eliminating seamines from the ports would require several months.”


The International Grains Council predicts that global grain production will be below the demand for the season 2022/23.

With global hunger at an unprecedented level, the loss of Ukraine’s shipments is expected to further reduce available supply. It will likely drive up food staples like bread, pasta, and noodles prices, as well as increase inflation.

Officials from the Western maritime authorities say it’s not known what kind of mines are being laid.

A Ukrainian foreign ministry official told Reuters in March that some 372 sea mines laid by Russia were of the “R-421-75” type, which were neither registered with or used by Ukraine’s navy currently and were captured by the Russian military during Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

  Russia’s defence ministry said in a statement in March that Ukraine had mined the approaches to the ports of Odesa, Ochakov, Chornomorsk and Yuzhny with 400 obsolete anchor mines.

Russia’s FSB intelligence agent also stated in March that mines had entered the Black Sea from cables located near Ukrainian ports. They were then reportedly set off by Ukrainian forces. Ukraine claimed that the FSB warned was false and had no information on any mines floating out to sea.

A Ukrainian official from the foreign ministry stated that some mines had been placed in Ukraine on Friday. “In exercising our right to self defense as stipulated in Article 51 U.N. Charter, we have placed naval mines. Charter.”

Russian officials at Moscow’s embassy and London’s Embassy did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Russia’s defence minister said that Mariupol harbour was cleared of all mines, and called on foreign governments to exert effective pressure on Mariupol port vessel owners in order to have them removed to their permanent docking spot.

There are 84 foreign vessels still stuck at Ukrainian ports, many with grain cargoes.

Odesa Beaches are sealed off with warning signs about mines. Some of the munitions were even found in Turkey and Romania.

“It’s not safe for ships to get in or get out at the moment. Until all mines have been cleared out, the situation won’t change,” Guy Platten secretary general of International Chamber of Shipping. This organization is working to open up shipping channels.

Two seafarers have already died and seven merchant vessels been hit by projectiles – with two sunk – around Ukraine’s coast while London’s insurance market has placed the entire region on its high risk list meaning soaring costs for shipments.

“Underwriters for their part would need some kind of assurance that it’s been done to a given degree by competent minesweepers,” said Neil Roberts, head of marine and aviation with the LMA, which represents the interests of all underwriting businesses in the Lloyd’s of London insurance market.


This would be the largest mine clearance effort since the Iran-Iraq conflict of the 1980s.

Gerry Northwood, an ex-captain who served as a warship commander with the Royal Navy of Britain, stated that intelligence on where and what types of mines are laid would be necessary from the beginning.

Northwood, an expert with MAST maritime security firm said that “mine hunters” would need remote-operated submersibles in order to find and destroy mines.

While the Black Sea is not particularly tidal or with strong currents, floating mines can still move significant distances over a period of time, said Duncan Potts, a former vice admiral with Britain’s Royal Navy.

Potts, who is now a consultant for Western governments, stated that “What’s happening in Ukraine? It appears that there seem to be a lot of floating untethered mins that are just as dangerous to you as your enemy” and that they are also unpredictable.

Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary General, stated Wednesday that top U.N. officials have held discussions with Washington, Ankara and Brussels over safe passage of the grain.

EU officials stated that it was impossible to talk about specific actions the bloc could take in order to demining, and suggested Russia need not start clearing its mines.

“Unless that is achieved, there won’t be sea corridors,” the official told Reuters. “We won’t pressure Ukraine to give up their defences. All deals that are possible must be acceptable to Ukraine.

Sources close to the maritime industry say that an agreement will be required to decide which navies may be used in order to complete work acceptable to commercial firms and insurers, given potential mistrust over any Russian efforts.