RUSSIA—Up to 300 ships have been stopped by Russian forces from departing the Black Sea, leaving one of the key global trade routes for grain virtually blocked.

Noriel Arauz, the administrator for the Panamanian Maritime Authority, added that three Panamanian-flagged ships have come under Russian fire since the invasion of Ukraine started. One of the ships sank and two others were damaged, while no one was injured.

World leaders are calling this a ‘deliberate attack’ on the global food supply chain. It has raised fears of political instability and shortages unless grain and other essential agricultural products are allowed to flow freely from Ukraine.

They called for international action to deliver 20 million tons of grain now trapped in Ukraine, predicting that the alternative could be hunger in some countries and political unrest in others, in what could be the gravest global repercussion yet of Russia’s assault on its neighbor.

Russia produces close to 80 million metric tons of wheat a year and exports close to 30 million tons, while Ukraine exports about 20 to 25 million tons a year.

Ukraine’s agriculture ministry says that the Black Sea blockade has prevented 14 million tons of corn, 7 million tons of wheat, and 3 million tons of sunflower seeds from reaching world markets.

European countries have tried to ease the crisis by moving grain out of the country by rail — but trains can carry only a small fraction of what Ukraine produces, and ships are needed for the bulk of the exports.

Russia’s navy now effectively controls all traffic in the northern third of the Black Sea, making it unsafe for commercial shipping.

At the same time, the Russian Defense Ministry proposed corridors to allow foreign ships to leave ports along the Black Sea, as well as Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Putin was “trying to hold the world to ransom” by demanding some sanctions be lifted before allowing Ukrainian grain shipments to resume.

The United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) has called for so-called blue corridors to allow the ships to leave the Black Sea without the risk of attack or hitting a mine.

“The ongoing military action in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov presents a serious and immediate threat to the safety and security of crews and vessels operating in the region,” IMO said in a statement released earlier this week.

IMO is currently liaising closely with all key stakeholders in the region to “contribute to attempts to address the safety and security of shipping” in the Black Sea region.

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