KYIV, UKRAINE — Ukraine said 16 ships have passed through an important mouth of the Danube River on July 12 as the country seeks to shake loose grain exports bottled up by Russia’s Black Sea blockade, Reuters reported, citing a government statement.

“In the last four days, 16 ships have passed through the Bystre River mouth,” Deputy Infrastructure Minister Yuriy Vaskov was quoted as a saying in a ministry statement. “We plan to maintain this pace.”

The ministry said the 16 vessels were now waiting to be loaded with Ukrainian grain for export to foreign markets, while more than 90 more vessels were awaiting their turn in Romania’s Sulina canal.

Ukraine is hoping to increase crossings along the Sulina route, and with the opening of the Bystre, could increase its monthly grain exports by 500,000 tonnes if goals are met, the ministry said.

Before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion, the ministry said, seaports accounted for about 80% of Ukraine’s agricultural exports, but those are now restricted to Danube ports, railways and roadways to the west.

Meanwhile, Turkey has been working with the United Nations to broker a deal to free up agricultural exports from Ukraine. Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish military delegations were set to meet UN officials in Istanbul on July 13 for talks on a possible deal to resume safe exports of Ukrainian grain from the major Black Sea port of Odessa.

Russia’s invasion and sea blockade of Ukraine has stranded more than 20 million tonnes of grain in silos at Odessa and sparked a global food supply concern. The coming harvest is at risk as Ukraine runs out of storage space.