Container ship Joseph Schulte departs Odesa amid rising tensions in the Black Sea

The Hong Kong-flagged merchant ship, Joseph Schulte, has finally left the port of Odesa, Ukraine, after being trapped for months due to concerns of potential attacks from Russia. This development follows Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, which heightened tensions in the region. Ukraine recently announced a “humanitarian corridor” in the Black Sea to allow ships to leave its ports safely, but it remains uncertain if Russia will respect this corridor.

The departure of Joseph Schulte comes after reports of Russian airstrikes damaging grain storage facilities in Reni, a river port located on the Danube River near Odesa. Ukrainian officials have shared photos showing the destruction of storage facilities and scattered grain and sunflowers in Reni. Despite these attacks, the Odesa port continues its operations.

Russia’s decision to back out of a previous agreement guaranteeing safe passage for exports across the Black Sea has disrupted Ukraine’s grain and oilseeds exports, leading to a global increase in food prices. In response, Ukraine announced the establishment of a humanitarian corridor in the Black Sea, ensuring full transparency to prove that the ships leaving its ports serve no military purpose.

The Joseph Schulte, jointly owned by Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement and a Chinese bank, was carrying over 30,000 tonnes of cargo, including food, in 2,114 containers as it departed for Istanbul, Turkey. The ship’s journey marks the beginning of using the temporary corridor for merchant ships, primarily aiming to evacuate vessels that have been trapped in Black Sea ports since Russia’s invasion.

Simultaneously, Ukrainian officials announced the capture of Urozhaine, a small hamlet in the Donetsk region, from Russian forces. Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar delivered the news on Telegram, highlighting the progress made by Ukrainian defenders in liberating territories from the Russian occupation.

The departure of Joseph Schulte signifies the ongoing resilience of Ukrainian ports and their determination to continue operations amidst the threat of Russian attacks. It also sheds light on the larger geopolitical tensions in the Black Sea region, impacting global food prices and trade routes. The humanitarian corridor initiative aims to maintain transparency and non-military purposes for ships leaving Ukrainian ports, providing assurance to the international community while navigating through these challenging times.