Baltic ports, already the fastest growing European container hubs, are seeking to capitalize on new ocean carrier alliances to attract more cargo, according to Drewry Maritime Research.
The region’s ice-free ports are chasing more direct calls by big ships, like the Gdansk Deepwater Container Terminal which has been handling vessels deployed on Maersk Line’s Asia/Europe service for several years.
The Polish terminal has retained the service in the new schedule of the P3 Network between Maersk, Mediterranean Shipping Co and CMA CGM that is due to launch in the second quarter of 2014.
The rival G6 Alliance wanted to call at Gdansk but was unable to find a berthing window. But the emergence of the P3 partnership likely will rekindle interest in direct calls in the south Baltic, not only by G6 but also the CKYH Alliance, London-based Drewry said.
Ice-free southern Baltic ports have been growing much faster than ports elsewhere in Europe as they attract growing volumes of mainly Russian feeder and transshipment traffic.
The Lithuanian port of Klaipeda handled close to 382,000 20-foot equivalent units in 2012, for a cumulative annual growth rate of 8.7 percent since 2006, and traffic at Riga, the Latvian box hub, grew 12.7 percent annually during the same period to top 362,000 TEUs last year.
The port in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad posted 16.2 percent annual growth since 2006 to 371,000 TEUs in 2012, outpacing the 9.7 percent growth in St. Petersburg, its leading box port, which handled 2.52 million TEUs.
Gdansk was the region’s fastest growing container port, with an average 51 percent annual increase over the past six years to reach 929,000 TEUs in 2012. Growth continued into 2013 with the Deepwater Container Terminal (DCT) passing the 1-million-TEU mark for the first time in November.
The region’s ports are expanding capacity to keep pace with traffic growth. DCT signed an agreement with the Gdansk port authority this year to build a second terminal adjacent to the existing facility as it bids to become the leading feeder hub for St. Petersburg and an overland gateway to hinterland destinations beyond Poland, including Belarus and Russia. The neighboring Polish port of Gdynia is deepening its channel to accommodate post-Panamax vessels up to 13,000 TEUs.
Klaipeda Container Terminal, which handles around two thirds of the Lithuanian port’s container traffic, has increased its berth length by 40 percent. A second terminal, operated by Klaipeda Smelte, operated by TIL, an affiliate of Mediterranean Shipping Co., is being upgraded to handle ships up to 11,500 TEUs and an annual capacity of 800,000 TEUs.
Kaliningrad, Russia’s only ice-free Baltic port, also is reported to be mulling an expansion program.
Ports seeking to emulate Gdansk’s success in attracting mainline vessel calls face challenges, including ship size limitations, even with their planned investments, Drewry said.
Moreover, Russian Customs still has the power to “discourage” cross-border traffic should it be deemed in the national interest.
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