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Which Baltic Ports are Alive During the Crisis?

Источник изображения: www.portofventspils.lv

The Baltic shipping ports are showing a rather shaky dynamic of cargo turnover. Some ports are faced with a sudden drop in cargo turnover, while others are at the same level or even showing a slight increase when compared to last year. In times of crisis, everyone is struggling to survive, and the survival chances of the Baltic ports are now dependent on their ability to adapt to the new economic situation and the steadily worsening Baltics-Russia relations.

Out of Latvia’s three naval ports, the worst numbers came from Ventspils – its cargo turnover for this year’s 8 months dropped 13.5% in comparison to the same period last year. The best numbers were demonstrated by Liepāja, whose cargo turnover grew 1.3% when compared to last year. Latvia’s biggest port Riga showed almost zero improvement – for this year’s 8 months, Riga’s cargo turnover grew a measly 0.3%

The Ventspils port management stated that the significant drop in cargo turnover happened in five of ten port terminals. Ventspils Nafta terminals handled 10% less cargo (around 795 thousand tons less), Ventbunkers handled 7% less (137 thousand tons less), Ventplac handled 10% less (31 thousand tons less). The worst drop in cargo turnover was in the Kalija parks terminal, where they handled only 1.5 million tons of coal, which is 46% less (or 1.3 million ton less) than last year.

In other words, the worst drop in Ventspils port cargo turnover was due to the sudden decrease in handling of Russian and Belarussian raw materials.

Mostly due to the decrease of Belarussian potassium fertilizer and Russian coal shipments to Ventspils. As expected, there was also a decrease in oil transit: even at the end of last year, Transneft stated its desire to refocus its oil exports from Ventspils to Russian ports, such as Ust-Luga, Primorsk and Novorossiysk.

However, this situation is something unique to Ventspils, and not something happening in all Latvian ports. In Riga, for example, the situation is the opposite: oil shipment handling has only grown (up by 8.3%), cargo turnover for coal has remained mostly unchanged (up 0.3%). But there was a sharp decrease in handling scrap metal (down by 42.3% in comparison with the similar period this year) and ore (down by 40.3%). These goods were exported through Riga from the East – around 80% of the cargo turnover in Riga’s free port was comprised of transit shipments sent to CIS countries or from these countries.

Liepāja port’s cargo turnover for last August was 294 857 thousand tons, which is 14.8% less than in August 2014. They handled 183.3 tons of loose goods, including 73.7 thousand tons of bread and grain, 67.8 thousand tons of building cement and 31.7 thousand tons of liquid cargo. Just like in Riga and Ventspils, the main bulk of Liepāja’s cargo turnover is raw materials and loose goods from CIS countries, in this case, mostly from Belarus.

A similarly controversial situation with cargo turnover can be found in the other Baltic countries: while Lithuania’s naval port in Klaipėda has seen a significant rise in turnover over this year’s 8 months, Estonia’s Tallinn has seen a significant drop.

Klaipėda port’s cargo turnover in January-August 2015 went up by 10% in comparison to the same period of 2014 – up by 25.37 million ton. According to the official port statistics, about half of the cargo turnover is taken up by two types of cargo: mineral fertilizers (33%) and oil products (17%). Handling of both of those has increased: this probably is what caused the significant drops in Ventspils’ cargo turnover – Klaipėda is just winning over its clients. This was caused by the fact that Belarus is expanding its economic presence in Lithuania: two years ago, Belaruskali bought a third of the Klaipėda port’s main terminal. Obviously now it is more efficient for them to just export their products through Klaipėda and not Ventspils.

Concerning Russian oil products, after last year’s shipment crisis (when the Būtingė oil terminal cargo turnover dropped by 34.5%), in January-July of this year shipment amounts increased 28.3%. But the recovery from that crisis can hardly be considered growth.

But the worst situation out of all the Baltic ports is in Tallinn: the development of the port infrastructure of the Leningrad region is having the most effect on Tallinn port, which is extremely close to Primorsk and Ust-Luga.

So the cargo turnover of the Tallinn port for the 8 months of 2015 has dropped by 21.7%. The biggest drop was in the circulation of oil cargo, which dropped by 38.3% (around 796.1 thousand tons) in August. Loose goods dropped by 17%, and container amounts dropped by 15%. This drop (mostly the oil-related one) is caused by competition from Russian ports in the Leningrad region, which they seem to be very successful at.

Seemingly, no common trend could explain this current state of affairs for the Baltic ports. More like their development is affected by all of the factors that have been in play for this part of the Baltic region economy. Infrastructural demarcation between Russia and the Baltic states, construction and modernization of the Russian North-Western ports, the continued Belarussian interest in the Baltics transport and logistical infrastructure, sanctions and counter-sanctions, the economic crisis in Russia and the negative impact of this crisis on the neighboring countries’ economies.

So far, we can’t say that this situation for the Baltic naval ports is completely negative. The statistics just differ too drastically.

But, without any doubt, these statistics don’t show any hints at economic optimism or an opportunity for record-breaking numbers in the near future.

The overall situation is not favorable for the Baltics’ transport and logistic infrastructure, even though each of the Baltic ports will be struggling to survive on its own.

Translated by: Pavel Shamshiev

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