Romania plan to boost Ukraine grain transport achievable, minister says

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Black Sea port of Constanta in Romania

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's plan to double the monthly transit capacity for Ukrainian grain through its Constanta port to four million metric tons in the coming months remains achievable, the country's Transport Minister Sorin Grindeanu said on Friday.

Constanta on the Black Sea has become Kyiv's largest alternative export route, with grains arriving by road, rail or barge across the Danube.

Ukraine, one of the world's biggest grain exporters, has already exported more grain via Constanta than it did in 2022, though volumes have fallen recently as Russian attacks on its Danube river ports prompt Ukrainian exporters to turn to road and rail routes.

Russia, which abandoned a deal that lifted a de facto Russian blockade of Ukraine's Black Sea ports in mid-July, has since repeatedly struck Ukrainian river ports that lie across the Danube from European Union and NATO member Romania.

"The level of transit we want to reach in the coming months is four million tons and such a thing is possible," Grindeanu said after meeting with officials from Ukraine, Moldova, the European Commission and the United States State Department.

He said measures which will boost capacity included a staff increase to ease the passage of vessels into the Danube's Sulina canal and an EU-funded project to make the canal navigable round the clock, which should be finished by November. The Sulina canal goes to the port of Constanta on the Black Sea.

Grindeanu said ship-to-ship transfer of grains in Constanta would also help to increase capacity by 500,000 tons monthly. This allows smaller vessels carrying grain to transfer it directly on to larger ships at the port.

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said the aim of doubling capacity should be achieved at the start of October, which "can help us solve at least 50% of our exports."

Kubrakov also said Russia has struck Ukrainian ports 118 times since it quit the safe passage deal, and that around a third of port infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed.

"I am sure that we will have more and more security on these transit routes over the weeks and months ahead, and that will allow us to expand the work even more than what has happened recently," said Jim O'Brien, the head of the U.S. State Department's Office of Sanctions.

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie and Jason Hovet; Editing by Jane Merriman)