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Rising traffic volumes give green light to a new dawn - 03/09/2007
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Container ports in the Eastern Mediterranean appear to have a particularly promising future. Many of the economies in the area, especially Turkey and Egypt, are experiencing high levels of growth, and this is generating good levels of import and export traffic to and from the region.

In addition, ports in the eastern Mediterranean are well placed to serve as transhipment, or transit points for cargoes destined for neighbouring countries in the Black Sea and the Balkans.

Christina Kalimbassieris, managing director of Piraeus-based Kalimbassieris Maritime, said: “This year has seen high levels of interest in the Eastern Mediterranean with a number of deals being struck and many more still in the pipeline for the months to come. Both the Greek and Turkish ports have a keen appetite for hub contracts for countries bordering the Black Sea and other landlocked neighbouring countries, and Piraeus, Thessaloniki, Mersin and Izmir in particular are well positioned to develop ambitious plans in this area.”

Considerable investment is being made to expand and upgrade ports in the area to enable them to fulfil a dual role as container gateways and transhipment hubs. A new 1 million teu container terminal is being developed in Piraeus, for example, and there are several notable projects underway in Turkey and Egypt as well.

Privatisation of at least a part of Piraeus’ container terminal facilities is still on the cards and a long list of global terminal operators have been connected with a potential bid. These include COSCO, DP World, Zim and, of course, MSC, which represents the majority of container business in the port. A deal with any one of these global terminal operators would certainly help reinforce Piraeus status as a major regional hub.

Ms Kalimbassieris said: “In the next few months the government is reportedly looking to finalise an agreement with a strategic investor. With the Greek elections to be held in September, there will be a clear path to progress.”

Privatisation has also been a central development for the Turkish ports sector. The privatisation of the ports of Izmir and Mersin has been completed this year with Hutchison Port Holdings and PSA respectively taking over control, and should herald a wave of fresh spending at these ports. Other notable investment projects in Turkey include DP World’s venture in Yarimca and the Yildirim group’s Yilport project, both of which are in the Izmit Bay area.

Further south, the Suez Canal Container Terminal is established as one of the region’s major hubs, mainly catering for Maersk Line business. Talks are now in progress between the leading shareholder, APM Terminals, and the Egyptian government which could lead to a doubling in size of this terminal by 2010. SCCT last year handled around 1.6 million teu, more than double the 760,000 teu achieved in 2005, and is set to pass 2 million teu in 2007.

Also in Egypt, the Kuwait Gulf Link group is backing a major expansion of the container terminal in Damietta and Hutchison Port Holdings is part of a joint venture that is upgrading terminals in Alexandria and El Dekheila.

The strength of container shipping demand in the eastern Mediterranean has encouraged a number of major carriers to upgrade services in the region in the past six months or so, to the benefit of regional ports. Maersk Line has for example given a vote of confidence to Piraeus by announcing a new direct service with Northern Europe. The Scan Med service now calls at the Mediterranean ports of Piraeus, Haydarpasa, Ambarli, Izmir and Gioia Tauro, and offers a fast transit between Antwerp to PIraeus of just six days.

Maersk has also upgraded connections between the Far East and the Eastern Mediterranean. Since this April, its Asia-Europe AE3 and AE5 strings have been dedicated to serving this region. Previously AE3 called only at the line’s Port Said and Gioia Tauro hubs, but now has direct calls into the ports of Ambarli and Haydarpasa in Turkey and Thessaloniki in Greece. AE5 meanwhile is focusing on Piraeus.

Other notable service developments include K Line, Yang Ming and Cosco starting up a new East Mediterranean Service, called East Mediterranean Express (EMX), which serves the Greek and Israeli markets in particular. The same carriers have further further upgraded their Aegean Sea Direct Express (ADX), introducing larger ships.

Tarros has recently started a new intra-Mediterranean Turkey-Italy service which runs on a weekly basis. This connects Gemlik, Marport and Izmir with Salerno, La Spezia and Genoa.

Clive Woodbridge - Monday 3 September 2007

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