US sees viable routes to export Ukrainian grain

FILE PHOTO: The general cargo ship Fulmar S arrives to the sea port in Chornomorsk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States sees viable routes to export Ukrainian grain through the country's territorial waters and overland after Russia withdrew from the grain deal, a senior U.S. official said, adding that they aim to return to exporting at prewar averages from Ukraine over the next months.

"I think we see there are viable routes through Ukraine's territorial waters and overland, and we are aiming ... over the next couple of months to return to exporting at kind of prewar averages from Ukraine," James O'Brien, head of the State Department's Office of Sanctions Coordination, told Reuters in an interview.

Ukraine is a global major grain grower and exporter and normally ships millions of metric tons of food from its deep-water Black Sea ports of Odesa and Mykolaiv, but has had to rely on its Danube River ports after Russia pulled out of the deal last month.

A senior agricultural official said on Monday that Ukraine is considering using its newly tested wartime Black Sea export corridor for grain shipments after other cargo ships follow the first successful evacuation of a vessel on the route last week.

Russia has blockaded Ukrainian ports since it invaded its neighbor in February 2022, and has threatened to treat all vessels as potential military targets after pulling out of a U.N.-backed safe passage deal.

In response, Ukraine announced a "humanitarian corridor" hugging the sea's western coastline near Romania and Bulgaria. A Hong Kong-flagged container ship stuck in Odesa port since the invasion traveled the route last week without being fired on.

Western countries have accused Russia of using food as a weapon of war by quitting the Black Sea deal, which had helped bring down global food prices, and by carrying out repeated air strikes in recent weeks on Ukrainian ports and grain stores.

Russia says the deal was not working properly as not enough grain was getting to the poorest countries. It says its own food exports, while not targeted directly, are hampered by Western sanctions affecting port access, insurance and banking.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; editing by Jonathan Oatis)