Ports in Poland are experiencing something of a renaissance, in part, driven by significant European Union (EU) funding, which aims to bring them up to the same level as ports in north-western Europe.
The port authorities have seized hold of these investment opportunities and now many of them feature state-of-the-art handling facilities for dry bulk, with infrastructure upgrades making it possible for them not only to accommodate larger bulk carriers, but also turn them around in ever faster times, as quayside productivity grows.
Unsurprisingly, therefore, many ports are posting record figures for total tonnage handled, even though not all dry bulk commodities continue to grow. For 2018, however, there was one notable exception: coal traffic showed considerable growth, as a cold winter boosted domestic demand and sucked in imports.
Grain, for its part, seems to have had a more difficult time of it during the past year.
The importance of the Port of Gdansk cannot be underestimated in Poland. In 2018, for example, it handled half of all the country’s port traffic and is on the verge of becoming one of the largest of all the Baltic Sea ports. Indeed, during the year, it overtook Klaipeda to become the fourth-largest regional port.
“Our goal for 2019 is to advance to third position. Currently, it is occupied by Russia’s Primorsk, where over 53mt [million tonnes] have been transshipped with a 7% drop in dynamics. I am convinced that with such an effort the Port of Gdansk will be on the podium next year,” says Lukasz Greinke,the President of the Port of Gdansk Authority,
The year 2017 had been a record one, with total traffic handled of 40.6mt, this being the highest volume ever reported for one of the country’s ports.
But in 2018, the port broke its own record, with traffic of 49mt, which was an increase of 20.7% and a national record for the year.
“Last year, our contractors transshipped 9mt of goods more than in 2017. They did so not only using the old infrastructure, but also during the ongoing construction work on the whole port territory,” says Greinke, adding that the final figure for the year had been 17% above budget.
Coal had an absolutely fabulous year. In total, Gdansk handled 7.2mt of this commodity, 41% more than last year. General cargo also rose by 18% to 21.5mt.
Aggregates also performed well, closing the year with 3.9mt handled, which was 14% better than in 2017.
The performance of Gdansk is even more remarkable when grain is focused on. In 2014, the port handled a remarkable 1.629mt, the highest figure in recent years, only for volumes to shrink thereafter. So, in 2017, 774,169 tonnes were handled, dropping to just 559,007 tonnes last year, a decrease of 27%.
In 2018, OT Logistics handled 6.5mt of dry bulk cargo at its two Polish terminals: OT Port Swinoujscie and OT Port Gdynia. This represents an 18% increase over 2017.
Karol Bowzyk, the company’s Ports Division Director, says that 2019 should record a further increase in bulk cargo volumes, in particular in coal imports.
“Taking into consideration ongoing railway and road investments, aggregate imports may also attain a higher level. We expect around a 15% overall increase compared to the previous year,” he says.
In terms of commodities handled, he says that, between them, the OT terminals in Gdynia and Swinoujscie are responsible for coal, coke, ores, pet coke, biomass, grain, soya bean meal, aggregate, and fertilizer.
“Around 70% of this cargo tends to be imported,” he says.
Berths in both terminals are equipped with both ship-to-shore and mobile harbour cranes with a lifting capacity of up to 120 tonnes. In addition, the company also operates bulk gantry cranes.
“For bulk cargo handling, we use grabs with a capacity of up to 26 cubic metres. We also have technological lines incorporating hoppers and belt conveyors that connect storage yards with the berths,” he adds.
Rail is the primary source of transport for both inbound and outbound commodities at OT Logistics’s two terminals. In terms of dry bulk, approximately 80% is served by rail.
“Our clients include coking plants, co-generation power plants and steelworks, which have railway sidings. For them, railway transport provides optimal transport costs,” says Bowzyk.
OT Logistics is also an added value service provider for dry bulk cargo, including offering warehousing in both open storage areas and covered warehouses; the blending, crushing and sorting of coal; and the bagging of fertilizer.
“At Swinoujscie, we have the deepest draught, of up to 13.5m, which allows us to handle Panamax vessels. Most bulk cargo is transported to our terminals using vessels ranging from 50,000dwt to 80,000dwt,” he says.
Productivity on the quay is very good. OT Logistics says it can achieve loading rates of up to 25,000 tonnes per day and unloading productivity of up to 20,000 tonnes per day.
Finally, asked about competition, Bowzyk says that OT Logistics has a lot of competitors in Polish ports.
“Customers choose our terminals because we guarantee a high quality of service, substantial storage possibilities (for example, up to 1mt at Swinoujscie) and good productivity. We are additionally able to offer the entire logistics process using our capital group assets, such as rail, barge and forwarding,” he says.
The Szczecin-Swinoujscie Port Complex, in Poland, is another that reported record cargo handing volumes in 2018. Combined, the two ports handled more than 28.6mt, an increase of 12.5% compared to 2017. The previous record was posted in 1979, when 26.697mt was handled.
In terms of dry bulk, this amounted to 10.486mt, up 22.3% over the previous year.
Of all the commodities handled, coal did best, increasing by 61%, which was followed by fuel, which went up 18%. According to the port authority, strong economic growth within Poland was the main reason for the buoyant figures, since the rapidly expanding economy triggered higher demand for energy resources and raw materials for the production of steel.
There were also increases in “other bulks”, which went up by 10%, thanks to increased traffic in fertilizer, aggregates, methanol and sulphuric acid. Breakbulk also did well, rising by 4.4%.
On the down size, grain performed badly, dropping by 25.1%.
“Results attained by our ports was the effect of the synergy between action taken by the port authority, on the one hand, and the operation of port-based companies on the other,” noted Dariusz Slaboszewski, CEO at Szczecin-Swinoujscie Seaports Authority. “Moreover, the Polish economy was rapidly growing as reflected by imposing port cargo handling statistics. The results are motivating us to continue promoting further growth in the ports of Szczecin and Swinoujscie.”
According to the latest BIMCO report, Szczecin-Swinoujscie has been recognized as the best port of 2018 for quality of service for vessels engaged in the carrying of dry bulk.
Forecasts for 2019 suggest that around 30mt of cargo will have been handled by the end of the year. However, the port authority cautions that the market situation can fluctuate and certain factors may remain outside the control of the many stakeholders in the port, and that these may impact on volumes.
Karolina Bierdzinska, the ports’ Business Assistance Manager, reveals that the 2019 traffic forecast factors in a reduction of Polish export coal and a reduction in imported iron ore, with 9.811mt expected to be the end—of-year total.
She says that the trend across both ports is one of seeing more imports of dry bulk and fewer exports. More than 34% is now exported, being mainly coke. In 2018, imports amounted to 8.025mt, which was a 38.8% increase compared to 2017. In contrast, export dry bulk fell 12% to 2.460mt.
Poland has long been associated with coal traffic, however the overall pattern continues to evolve, with exports last year being particularly of note, as can be seen from the table.
The rapid growth being experienced by the ports of Szczecin and Swinoujscie is being supported by large-scale EU-funded investment project. In total, in 2007–2020, the value of completed and planned projects has been estimated at nearly €480 million. The priority of investment has been to improve access to the ports and enhance transport handling quality. For this purpose, new quays are being built and existing ones modernized to handle larger vessels. Projects scheduled in the 2014–2020 EU budget period include, the extension of port infrastructure in the bulk and break bulk cargo handling areas in the port complex.
As part of the last EU finance plan (2007–2013), Szczecin-Swinoujscie rebuilt its road and rail infrastructure in order to improve the quality of services offered by its stevedoring companies.
In respect of rail upgrades, 35,927 metres of track and 134 level crossings were either restructured or modernized.
“The total length of rail infrastructure in the ports of Szczecin and Swinoujscie currently amounts to 73.5 kilometres of tracks and 198 track intersections,” says Bierdzinska. “In 2018, 45% of cargo was transported by rail, 45% by road and 3% by barges, the rest being moved by pipeline. 100% of coal, coke and ore was moved by rail.”
As for relatively new dry bulks, in 2018, 75,900 pallets were handled by the two ports, along with 40,800 tonnes of woodchip.
The port authority has also been working with the various port companies to attract new cargo and this includes possible new port infrastructure. The investment plan for Szczecin and Swinoujscie in 2014-2020 is in the region of $393 million. Part of this is to be invested in modernizing quays in Szczecin in the area around the Debicki Canal and Kaszubski Basin. These will be upgraded to meet requirements of the Swinoujscie-Szczecin fairway, which is to be dredged to 12.5 metres. In Swinoujscie, a new ferry terminal will be built to handle intermodal transport, and new deep water quays will be built.
In the near future, other organizations are going to invest in port access infrastructure, which includes the dredging and modernization of the Swinoujscie-Szczecin fairway to 12.5m, extension of the S3 expressway, modernization of railway links, and the improvement of the navigation capacity of the Oder Waterway.
“All the above mentioned activities are designed to enhance competitiveness of the Szczecin-Swinoujscie Port Complex,” notes the port authority, which hopes that this will include growing volume of cargo handled year on year.
Asked about how much of the bulk handled by Szczecin-Swinoujscie was effectively captive to those ports, Bierdzinska points out that dry bulk has long accounted for the largest segment of the overall tonnage handled. This includes coal, ore, grain and other bulk, such as aggregate, woodchip, fertilizer and tar.
“The main goal of our strategy is to preserve the universal nature of the two ports, allowing them to handle both bulk and general cargo. Nevertheless, we expect to handle more than 9.5mt of dry bulk each year, which is around 37% of total turnover. In addition to that, we also handle around 4.8mt of liquid bulk (16%), which means around 53% of total cargo is either dry or liquid bulk.”
Finally, in respect of environmental control, she points out that bulk handling stevedores use both modern sealed cargo handling equipment and follow appropriate procedures for loading and handling dusty goods.
“Dust pollution is kept to a minimum by using approved procedures. Loads, depending on the recommendations of the operators/producers, are protected from the weather or stored in sheltered areas or covered warehouses. The storage areas are equipped with devices that pre-treat rainwater discharged from these areas to surface waters, thanks to which both soil and water are protected against the discharge of harmful substances into the environment,” she says.
Correspondent: Barry Cross