Draft increase in Danube-Black Sea canal raises hopes of improved Ukraine logistics

17 Feb 2023 | Masha Belikova

An increase in the depth of a canal linking the River Danube with the Black Sea could improve logistics for Ukraine's shallow water ports and improve flows out in the event that the grain corridor agreement collapses, trade sources have told Agricensus.  

The draft of Ukraine's Bystre canal has been increased by 2.5 meters to 6.5 meters from the start through to kilometer 77, and to seven meters from kilometer 77 through to kilometer 166, where the canal meets the Kiliysky estuary, an official note from the Ukrainian Infrastructure Ministry said Friday.

“We managed to increase the permissible draft of ships for the first time during the time of independent Ukraine,” Oleksandr Kubrakov, Deputy Prime Minister for the Reconstruction said.

“Thanks to this, we will be able to ensure more efficient and safe navigation between the Black Sea and the Danube River, as well as increase the flow of cargo through the Danube ports,” Kubrakov said.

The changes could allow part of the cargo fleet to go directly to the Black Sea through the Bystre canal on the Ukrainian side, and relieve pressure on the Sulina canal, which is controlled by Romanian authorities.

Prior to the change, the low draft did not allow the passage of fully loaded cargoes, only the return of empty vessels, according to the trade sources - creating bottlenecks and delays for laden vessels trying to carry grains for export.

Also, it is expected that vessels with up to 10,000 mt deadweights will now be able to pass the canal, but in the case of such an option, the vessel would likely be only partly loaded to around 6,000-7,000 mt, according to Pavel Sosnovsky, head of independent freight analysis agency ISM.

This would be considered a normal volume for cargoes like meal, corn, and soybeans, which require undercharge usually amid higher stowage factor, while wheat amounts shipped now might be limited to lower amounts. 

With a deeper draft it will also possibly allow sea vessels to also use the canal alongside river vessels, thus increasing the potential fleet available.

However, as the canal flows through Ukrainian territory, insurance companies may refuse to provide cover to such shipments, so that part of that fleet will likely stay in Sulina canal.

This channel was used prior to the war as an entrance to the port of Reni - a small port that has taken on much greater significance since the Russian invasion began as it is now one of the few ports that are able to manage seaborne exports without use of the Istanbul checks that have caused major delays for exports from Pivdennyi, Odesa and Chornomorsk.