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Change is the name of the game as regional economy flourishes - 20/06/2007
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Ports welcome upturn in box volumes and traffic, writes Clive Woodbridge

The Black Sea ports and shipping sector is going through a period of tremendous change, characterised by rapid growth in cargo handling activity and the start of some significant new container shipping services. To a large extent the market is being driven by the economic development of Russia and the Ukraine. However, other countries in the region are also experiencing positive economic trends.

As Christina Kalimbassieris, managing director of marine and P&I consultants, Kalimbassieris Maritime, says : “The impact of Romania and Bulgaria’s entry into the EU this year is already being seen and both countries are working on some ambi t ious t ranspor t inf rast ructure projects. The port of Constantza, for example, is now busier than its competitors in both the Ukraine and Russia.”

Indeed, last year Constantza handled more than 1m teu, making it the first port in the region to reach this milestone. The port has also seen a surge in cereals traffic as a reflection of both good crop levels and increased operational efficiency.

Considerable investment is now being put into the port to upgrade not just the container facilities but also other elements of Constantza’s maritime infrastructure. A new passenger terminal has, for example, been added in recent months.

Constantza’s maritime cluster has also benefited from an upturn in business for the Daewoo Mangalia and Constantza shipyards. Furthermore, as Ms Kalimbassieris points out: “Crewing is another key area of growth in Constantza, and we are seeing more and more ship owners opening their own manning agencies in the city.”

Bulgaria is not growing as fast as Romania in terms of trade activity, but there are some ambitious plans for improving the country’s port infrastructure and terminal facilities, most of which are still controlled by the state. Privatisation is on the agenda for the ports sector, however, as it is for the shipping industry as well. Bulgaria’s biggest shipping company, Navibulgar, is waiting to be privatised, and this could at long last happen in the first half of 2008, subject to parliamentary approval. The state-owned shipping company has three bulk carriers on order, the first of which, Stara Planina, is due for delivery shortly.

Elsewhere in the region, traffic levels at ports in Russia and Ukraine are also increasing rapidly, with Odessa’s container volumes rising by almost 38% in 2006 to 395,000 teu, Ilychevsk’s by 14.4% 324,000 teu and Novorossisyk’s by 40% to 226,000 teu. Odessa and Ilychevsk are reported to be suffering badly from congestion, while the situation in Novorossisyk port is said to be ‘on a knife edge’ with delays thought likely develop, as the Russian gateway’s container throughput is growing faster than any other Black Sea port.

The Georgian port of Poti is also experiencing a sharp upturn in its box traffic. The port handled 43,000 teu in the first quarter of 2007, up 65% compared with 26,000 teu moved in the first three months of 2006. Last year, the port handled 127,000 teu, about 20% more than in 2005.

Poti is mainly served by feeder vessels linking Georgia to ports in the Mediterranean and western Black Sea. In addition, there are ro-ro services to Bourgas and Novorossisyk and a rail ferry connection to Ilychevsk and Varna. The fast growth in the Georgian box market may attract direct calls within the near future.

The Poti container terminal is presently operated by the port authority, but there are plans to lease the facility to a private operator by the end of this year. If this does happen as promised, it could allow much-needed investment to be made to upgrade this container terminal, and alleviate worsening congestion issues in Poti.

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