By Pavel Polityuk
KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine's efforts to increase exports under the Black Sea grain deal with Russia are currently focused on securing faster inspections of ships rather than including more ports in the initiative, a senior Ukrainian official said on Wednesday.
Ukraine is a major global grain producer and exporter, but production and exports have fallen since Russia invaded the country last February and started blockading its seaports.
Three leading Ukrainian Black Sea ports in the Odesa region were unblocked in July under an initiative between Moscow and Kyiv brokered by the United Nations and Turkey. Under the deal, all ships are inspected by joint teams in the Bosphorus.
Kyiv accuses Russia of carrying out the inspections too slowly, causing weeks of delays for ships and reducing the supply of Ukrainian grain to foreign markets. Russia has denied slowing down the process.
"Ukraine focuses on normalising inspections rather than opening new ports," the senior Ukrainian official said.
Referring to a port that is not part of the deal, the official said: "Why open the port of Mykolaiv if at the current rate of exports we can close half of the ports of Odesa, which are already open?"
Ukraine exported around 7 million tonnes of agricultural products in September and October and 6 million in November, but shipments fell sharply to less than 4 million in December. Kyiv attributes the drop to a slowdown of inspections.
Ukraine's infrastructure ministry said on Tuesday that no new vessels were currently expected to arrive in Ukraine for loading.
It said 94 vessels were waiting for inspection in the Bosphorus, including 69 empty vessels for loading and 25 which had already been loaded with agricultural products.
Vessels are waiting for an average of more than a month, the ministry said.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)