• 2016 August 17

    Russian President Vladimir Putin

    Vladimir Putin's speech at a meeting of the Presidium of the State Council on the challenges of inland waterways development in Volgograd

    - I will focus on the most important, I believe, issues.

    Firstly, the overcoming of infrastructure constraints, including primarily reduction of the depth of inland waterways. Over the last 25 years the depth has been decreased by an average of a quarter, and the length of the waterways with confirmed dimensions of shipping channels by an average of 30%. Besides, rivers shallowness only exacerbated the problems. Under these conditions, more than half of the vessels can not pass the waterways with a full load. Eventually, this entails losses, an increase in the number of unprofitable voyages, and as a result the traffic volumes of the water transport has shrunk by 3.3 times. In 1990, the water transport volumes were comparable with the overland transport. Now the gap has increased fourfold. In 1980, for example, 481 million tonnes were transported along the rivers, and in 2015 – a little over 120 million. Passenger traffic on the waterways also plummeted. The same 1980 year there were 103 million people, in 2015 – only 13.5 million.

    There are not a few so-called 'bottlenecks' on a single deep waterways system, to be precise - very shallow places, where the depth is much lower than the minimum required for the passage of ships. This has led to the division of the Volga and the Lower Don into separate sections... We've just talked recently with the governor, he said there's sufficient water this year, quite a decent level, but it's by no means always.

    This has resulted in virtually complete cessation of through cargo / passenger traffic on these rivers. The popular, primarily for tourism, itineraries from St. Petersburg and Moscow to Russia's southern regions were suspended. And we should give priority support to projects in this sector. In this case all the stages of designing and expertise must be carried out in conjunction with environmental agencies and leading environmental organizations. Nature of the Volga and other rivers is priceless and absolutely unique. It is necessary to do everything possible to minimize any possible damage, to zero it.
    Also we need to think about what should be done to stimulate the revival and encourage river cruise tourism, including for foreigners, which I have already mentioned. Here, one of the key issues is the improvement of the visa regime...

    Secondly, the achievement of a balanced transportation by different modes of transport and, as a result, reducing not only the budget costs, but the expanses of shippers. It is well known that transportation of a tonne of goods by waterway requires far fewer money than by road.
    Today, more than a quarter of federal highways are overloaded, especially in this period, during vacation, in the summer, when people go on vacation, return home, and accompanied by trucks laden with gravel or sand, and all this happens during a river shipping season. There I see possibilities that are not used or used ineffectively.

    Although, to be honest, we have already addressed this issue and tasked the government to look into the problem in April 2014. Carriers themselves are in no hurry to change their usual logistics, keeping to the beaten track. The government, of course, should take swift action to stimulate traffic on the rivers.

    I should add that, for example, our neighbors in the Peoples Republic of China, where the river system length is comparable to ours, or a little longer, the shipping volumes on waterways is 12 times more. And if you compare the use of the waterways with other modes of transport, the domestic waterborne traffic lags behind even those countries where the length of rivers is much less than ours: in European countries such as the Netherlands, Germany, France, for example. Inland waterways there play a significant role, despite the high development of road transport.

    We need to develop port infrastructure, modern container terminals. And I will add that the Government back in 2014 has approved standards of inland waterway maintenance. Obviously, in order to fully implement these goals, the challenges and the solutions, and to ensure the overhaul of shipping channels and locks system, we'll have to find additional funding, and, of course, we need to think about it...

    Thirdly, the river fleet upgrade. The paces here are unfortunately very slow. A head of our shipbuilding company has just told me about innovation, but in general it should be noted that the changes are very slow. Over the past 15 years we have built 800 ships, but they can not compensate the amount of work that had been performed by old vessels, and the number of decommissioned fleet is 13 times greater than the newbuilds. In 2000, there were 21,000 cargo ships on our rivers, and today there are only 11,000 ships, with the average fleet age exceeding 36 years.
    Fleet renewal is not a simple task, this is an old agenda, and relevant decision and measures have already been taken...

    Quoted from the record of the meeting of the Presidium of the State Council in Volgograd.

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