Like a giant elephant’s trunk, a giant hose sweeps across the hold of a ship in the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta, spilling tons of corn onto the ship before it sets sail.
Russia’s blockade of Ukraine’s seaports has forced the country’s exporters to look for alternative ways of transporting their valuable cargo.
The country’s grain is now loaded onto trains, trucks or barges in the small Danube ports of Reni and Izmail in the southwest and transported to the Romanian ports.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has turned Constanta into a major maritime export center for Ukrainian crops.
Before the war, Ukraine monthly exported 4.5 million tons of agricultural products through its ports – 12% of the world’s wheat, 15% of corn and 50% of sunflower oil.
“We must ensure that the grain reaches consumers’ tables without delay to avoid the risk of famine,” said Viorel Panait, managing director of Comvex, which handles Constanta’s bulk commodities.
“We hope to pick up the pace… because given the unfortunate situation our Ukrainian neighbors are going through, we have to help them as much as we can,” he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Neighboring Bulgaria said this week it was ready to help export Ukrainian grain from its Black Sea port of Varna – and is getting to work to improve its infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Constanta is moving the cargo as fast as she can.
The Lady Dimine, the ship loaded with corn, is the second grain ship since last week to dock at Pier 80 and head for Portugal after loading.
The first ship, loaded with 70,000 tons of Ukrainian corn, left Constanta last Friday, and a third is planned in six days.
The first ship, carrying 70,000 tons of cargo, took 49 trains or barges to fill, Panait said.
Loading such ships in an improperly equipped port would mean thousands of trucks clogging the roads, he added.
Even before Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Constanta overtook France’s Le Havre to become a European hub for grain exports, port director Florin Goidea said.
Now he said: “Our goal is to send the goods as soon as possible and thus support the Ukrainian economy.”
His office offered a breathtaking view of the work at the port, which was teeming with cranes and ship loaders.
“The war in Ukraine is a challenge, but also an opportunity,” said Goidea.
projects in the pipeline
To meet this challenge, the Romanian government has developed two projects to unblock road traffic and facilitate the flow of cargo to the port.
First, by the end of the year, 95 communist-era rail lines blocked for years by hundreds of rusting wagons will be repaired.
The 200 million lei ($42.85 million) project should allow Constanta to match or even surpass the record 67.5 million tons of goods in transit in 2021, Goidea said.
The Ministry of Transport is also seeking tenders for works to reopen a 5-kilometer railway line, more than 200 kilometers north of Constanta.
This line would connect Giurgiulesti in Moldova – wedged between Romania and Ukraine – with Galati on the Danube in eastern Romania.
This short transition is crucial as they are the same gauge used in the former Soviet Union, making it easier to transport goods.
The rehabilitation of the route is planned for this summer.
Traffic in the other direction has now come to a standstill near Constanta.
Dozens of wind turbine parts destined for Ukraine lie abandoned on one of the congested roads.
“There’s no one left to send them to,” said a port worker.