Romanian port struggles to handle Ukrainian grain flow

Constanta, Romania (AP) — With Ukraine’s ports blocked or occupied by Russian forces, neighboring Romania’s Black Sea port of Constanta is a main conduit for the war-torn country’s grain exports amid a growing world food crisis. as emerged.

It is Romania’s largest port, home to Europe’s fastest-loading grain terminal, and has processed nearly one million tons of grain from Ukraine since the February 24 invasion – one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat and corn. One.

But port operators say maintaining the volumes they handle may soon be impossible without the joint support and investment of the EU.

“If we want to keep helping Ukrainian farmers, we need help increasing our handling capacity,” said Dan Dolghin, director of grain operations at Black Sea Port’s main Comvex operator.

“No operator can invest in infrastructure that will become redundant after the war ends,” he said.

Comvex can process 72,000 tonnes of grain per day. He and Constanta’s proximity to Ukraine by land, and by sea to the Suez Canal, make it the best current route for Ukrainian agricultural exports. Other options include road and rail shipments to Poland and its Baltic Sea ports on Ukraine’s western border.

Efforts to lift the Russian blockade are nowhere to be found, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization projects 181 million people in 41 countries could face a food crisis or worse levels of hunger this year in connection with the Ukraine war.

Just days after the Russian invasion, Comvex invested in a new unloading facility, anticipating that the neighboring country would have to redo its agricultural exports.

This enabled the port to ship nearly one million tons of Ukrainian grain over the past four months, most of which arrived by barge down the Danube River. But with 20 times the amount still blocked in Ukraine and the summer harvest season fast approaching Romania and other countries that use Constanta for their exports, Dolghin said it is likely that their port’s Shipping through Ukrainian grain will slow down.

“As the summer harvest picks up in Romania, all port operators will turn to Romanian grain,” he warned.

Ukraine’s Deputy Agriculture Minister Markian Dmitrsevich is also concerned.

In an address to the European Parliament earlier this month, Dmitrasevich said that when Constanta operators turn to European grain suppliers in the summer, “it will further complicate the export of Ukrainian products.”

Romanian and other EU officials have also expressed concern, having pledged support in recent weeks.

On a recent visit to Kyiv with the leaders of France, Germany and Italy, Romanian President Klaus Iohannes said that his country was exploring possible ways to overcome “the weaponization of grain exports by Russia”.

“As a relevant part of the solution to the food insecurity posed by Russia, Romania is expected to facilitate the transit of Ukraine’s exports and serve as a hub for grain.” actively involved in.” of Asia, he said.

Among the solutions discussed in Kyiv, Iohannis said, were accelerating Danube barge shipments, increasing the speed of their unloading at Romanian ports, new border crossings for trucks with Ukrainian grain, and one link connecting Romania with Ukraine and Moldova. Decommissioning involves the reopening of the railway.

A Romanian analyst said finding alternative routes for Ukraine’s grain exports goes beyond private logistics companies or any single country, echoing Iohannis’s call in Kyiv for an international “coalition of the interested” to tackle the problem. Is.

“The situation in Ukraine will not be resolved soon; the discord may end but tensions will remain. … That is why new transport routes must be considered and consolidated,” said George Vulcanescu.

He noted that in this sense there are only three economically viable routes for Ukrainian exports – through Romania, Poland or the Baltic states.

However, he added, “Port operators need financial support from the Romanian authorities, but the money must come from the European Union.”

Vulcanescu said a combination of fast and “minimum, not maximum” investment is needed.

“Big investments cannot be made quickly – we need to rapidly find solutions to expand the (existing) storage and handling capabilities of Romanian ports,” he said. “If we want to help Ukraine now, we have to look for small investments to improve the infrastructure we already have.”

Comvex’s Dolghin said the operator wants to help as much as possible, but added: “We expect to see concrete action, not just statements in support of port operators.”

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