TALLINN - Competing ports on the southern shore of the Baltic underwent a sea-change last year, with Russia's two terminals becoming the largest and combining to handle more than 100 million tons of liquid and dry cargo.
St. Petersburg, the region's largest port, saw cargo throughput jump 21.7 percent last year to 51.1 million tons new, while Primorsk, the new oil terminal to the north, pumped some 44.5 million tons of crude in 2004, up 251 percent year-on-year. Thus Primorsk, which opened at the end of 2001, passed up both Ventspils and Tallinn to become the second largest port in the eastern region of the Baltic Sea.
The Port of Tallinn remained the largest in the Baltic states, as it saw 7.2 percent more cargo last year to 37.44 million tons.
The fourth largest was Ventspils, which managed a slight 1.8 percent increase in cargo handing year-on-year to 27.3 million tons despite the continued embargo on crude oil deliveries via pipeline. But compared with the 38 million tons the port managed in 2001, the result is disheartening.
What's more, Russia's Fuel and Energy Ministry has plans to increase Primorsk's crude handling capacity to some 62 million tons. The plan is almost certain to be carried out and will keep the question mark hanging over Ventspils for some time.
Riga Free Port saw its handling soar 10.4 percent to 23.9 million tons, largely due to brisk coal exports from Russia. Deliveries of coal, a low-margin commodity for stevedores, to the port rocketed 79 percent to 9.4 million tons.
Russia currently maintains low tariffs for coal exports since it has minimal capacity to handle the fossil fuel at its Gulf of Finland terminals and Moscow is trying to prop up the flailing coal industry.
The port in Gdansk was sixth at 23 million tons, and Klaipeda was seventh with 20.2 million tons.
Meanwhile, the Finnish business daily Taloussanomat reported this week that the St. Petersburg port was aiming to become a regional leader in exporting oil products. Kirill Kotin, a spokesman for the port, told the Bloomberg news agency that the port hoped to export 11 million tons of petrochemicals in 2004 and raise capacity so that it could reach even 15 million tons per year in the future. In order to receive bigger tankers, the port is planning to ask the city to carry out dredging work.
Last year exports through the port, where crude shipments are banned due to the city's tourist status, surged by 27 percent to 9.3 million tons.
Russia, which is having a boom in oil production, is seeking to triple its shipment of oil and oil products via the Baltic Sea by 2010, the Baltic News Service reported. In 2003 it exported 65 million tons of crude and 45 million tons of oil products through ports in the Gulf of Finland. Transport of crude and oil products through the Baltic Sea would amount to a staggering 330 million tons a year.