An increase in the depth of a canal linking the River Danube and the Black Sea could improve logistics for Ukraine’s shallow water ports and improve flows out if the grain corridor agreement broke down, AgriCensus reported trade sources as saying.

The draft of Ukraine’s Bystre canal has been increased by 2.5m to 6.5m from the start to the 77th kilometre, and to 7m from there to the 166th kilometre, where the canal meets the Kiliysky estuary, according to an official note from the Ukrainian Infrastructure Ministry on 17 February.

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

“… 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.”

The changes could allow part of the cargo fleet to go directly to the Black Sea through the Bystre canal on the Ukrainian side, relieving pressure on the Sulina canal, which is controlled by Romanian authorities, the 17 February report said.

The low draft did not previously allow the passage of fully loaded cargoes, only the return of empty vessels, according to the trade sources, which created bottlenecks and delays for laden vessels trying to carry grains for export.

In addition, it was expected that vessels with up to 10,000 tonne deadweight would now be able to pass through the canal, although vessels were likely to be only partly loaded to around 6,000-7,000 tonnes, according to Pavel Sosnovsky, head of independent freight analysis agency ISM.

A deeper draft would also potentially allow sea vessels to use the canal alongside river vessels, which would increase the available fleet, the report said.

However, as the canal flows through Ukrainian territory, insurance companies could refuse to provide cover to such shipments, meaning that part of the fleet would be likely to remain in the Sulina canal, AgriCensus wrote.

Before the war with Russia, the channel was used as an entrance to the port of Reni – a small port that had gained importance since the Russian invasion began as it was now one of the few ports able to manage seaborne exports without needing to undergo checks in Istanbul that had caused major delays for exports from Pivdennyi, Odessa and Chornomorsk, the report said.