The United Nations expects a deal to resume Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea to be fully operational in a few weeks and restore shipments to pre-war levels of 5 million tonnes a month, two senior U.N. officials said on Friday.
Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and the United Nations signed the deal in Istanbul in what Turkey has said will mark the first step toward easing an international food crisis exacerbated by Moscow's invasion of its neighbour.
Russia and Ukraine are among the world's top food exporters and Moscow's Feb. 24 invasion has blockaded Ukrainian ports, stranding dozens of ships, leaving 20 million tonnes of grain stuck in silos and driving up world grain prices.
The U.N. officials said the parties agreed the general outline of the initiative such as the ports involved, the establishment of a monitoring centre in Istanbul, ways of inspecting the ships involved, and the limitations of the plan. "We are looking at a very quick rate of implementation," one of the officials said. "We start (Saturday) to establish the Joint Coordination Centre (JCC)," the person said, adding that minor issues remained to be worked out before the initiative could be put fully into effect.
"We are talking about a few weeks before we will see proper implementation of vessels going in and out," the official said, although there could be an "initial movement of ships" to show that the mechanism will work.
Under the plan, Ukrainian officials will guide ships through safe channels across mined waters to three ports, including the major hub of Odesa, where they will be loaded with grain.
Ships will then exit Ukrainian territorial waters in the Black Sea, transit the Bosphorus strait to a Turkish port for inspection and later head to their destinations.