More cargo ships from Ukraine use a civilian corridor despite Russian threats

In this photo provided by Ukraine's Infrastructure Ministry Press Office, container ship Joseph Schulte (Hong Kong flag) leaves the port of Odesa to proceed through the temporary corridor established for merchant vessels from Ukraine's Black Sea ports in Odesa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2023. The ship carrying over 30 thousand tons of cargo, including food products, which had been in the port of Odesa since last February because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, left Odessa under an agreement between Ukraine and the International Maritime Organisation. (Ukraine's Infrastructure Ministry Press Office via AP) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Two cargo vessels have left Ukraine despite Russian threats and are in the Black Sea, maritime officials said Saturday.

The Anna-Theresa, a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier carrying 56,000 tons of pig iron, left the Ukrainian port of Yuzhny on Friday and is now close to Bulgarian territorial waters, Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said.

A second vessel — the Ocean Courtesy, traveling under a Marshall Islands flag — left the same port on Friday with 172,000 tons of iron ore concentrate. That ship arrived at the Romanian Black Sea port of Constanta shortly before noon on Saturday, according to the global ship tracking website MarineTraffic. The website does not state whether the vessel is set to move on from the Romanian port.

The two vessels sailed through a temporary corridor for civilian ships from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports to the Bosporus, Kubrakov said on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter. The corridor goes along the western shores of the Black Sea, avoiding international waters and instead using instead those controlled by NATO members Romania and Bulgaria.

On Saturday, authorities at the Bulgarian port of Varna did not confirm whether the Anna-Theresa will enter the port or will continue to the Bosporus Strait.

The ships were the third and fourth vessels that used the interim corridor established by Ukraine’s government after Russia halted a wartime agreement aimed at ensuring safe grain exports from Ukraine. The vessels had been docked in Ukrainian Black Sea ports since before Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbor.

Their departure coincided with the official announcement of a meeting on Monday between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The high-level talks in Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi come just over six weeks after Moscow broke off a deal brokered by Ankara and the U.N. that allowed Ukrainian grain to reach world markets safely despite the 18-month war.