• 2014 November 10

    Taganrog in pursuit of depths

    Operations at the Port of Taganrog remain sluggish amid growth in other ports of the regional basin. The port operators say the reason is quite simple: sediments deposition reduced depth of its access channel. If this problem remains unsolved, the consequences will be even more irreversible for the port and the city.

    Cargo volumes handled at the port of Taganrog in the first nine month of 2014 remained flat on the same period a year ago, at 2,044,000 tonnes, thanks largely to liquid bulk cargoes, while dry bulk segment sank by about 14%.

    The problem here is not related to lower demand for port services, the port authorities told IAA PortNews, but caused by mud accumulation in the access channel. Actually, the port of Taganrog was not lucky, they said. Unlike the ports of Azov, Rostov-on-Don, where access channel is well washed away as it runs along the river Don, the access to Taganrog port is situated at right angle to the river channel. Taganrog Bay seabed is soft and covered with silt, with the north-eastern and western winds bringing more sediments in the channel. Besides, there is a site (to the west of the 2nd stretch) for dumping of maintenance dredging materials.

    The channel's projected characteristics: length - 19 km, width - 80 m, depth - 5 m. Previously, the port authorities annually carried out maintenance dredging to keep the channel's depths at 5 meters in order to ensure shipping safety and provide access for vessels with draft of up to 4.7 meters.

    On 24-25 September 2014 the port was hit by a severe storm and the port authority announced a state of emergency (with wind gusts reaching 35 m / s, downpour, water level rising 3 meters above zero level and power lines breakage). After the storm, the sea port operators conducted a survey of the inner harbour and access channel and on September 30 2014 the Port of Taganrog Captain announced, following depth sounding in the Taganrog access channel, the maximum depth at 4 meters, with the permissible draft of vessels passing the channel reduced by an average of 70 cm.

    Since early this year, the port's Captain has announced permissible draft of vessels making calls at Taganrog at 4.5 meters (twice) and at 4 meters.

    As a result, when the vessels' permissible maximum draft for passing through the channel has been decreased cargo owners lost their interest in the port's services. That, in turn, has entailed a reduction of the list of ships that can easily enter and depart the port, and also has led to shifting of loads to Taganrog's main competitors in the Sea of Azov.

    In 2013 the port could receive vessels with capacity of 8,000 to 10,000 tonnes. Today, cargo vessels making calls at the port's terminals can take on board only 5,000 tonnes.

    Since the port is not able any more to accommodate larger capacity vessels, its clients and cargo base began shrinking considerably. As a result, the port is currently not handling its basic cargoes, including general, grain, oil products, which used to account for 50% of the port's total throughput. So far, the port's advantage was that it provided the possibility to transship bulk loads to large ships, which significantly reduces the turnaround time of cargo. At equal freight rate for all vessels, transshipment onto large tonnage ship turns out to be cheaper.

    The problem with approach channel has disrupted schedule of arrival of vessels to carry goods previously delivered to the port. Cargo owners had to terminate the existing shipping contracts and to sign new contracts to supply ships with lesser carrying capacity and draft. Today, ships making calls at Taganrog have capacity of only 5,000 tonnes, so they departure the port with dead freight, that is, take on board about 4,000 to 4,200 tonnes to be able to transit the channel. Vessels of capacity of 8,000 tonnes arriving at the port are loaded only by 50-55% of their capacity.

    So, cargo owners are facing a dilemma: either they pay for dead freight on a large capacity vessel (the vessel leaves unloaded an average of 500 to 2,000 tonnes) or charter a vessel of carrying capacity of 4,000-5,000 tonnes. Currently, freight rate has increased by an average of 2 to 5% on 4,000-5,000-tonne vessels.

    For this reason the port has failed to achieve cargo throughput planned for the period of October-December 2014 and it is impossible to predict the expected volume for 2015.

    There are also cases of delays in cargo movement caused by busy warehouses space that do not allow to unload arriving rail cars laden with freight which entails accumulation of backlog of rail cars. The North Caucasus Railway imposes additional sanctions to increase payment rates for idle freight cars, and may also impose conventional ban on planned shipment of loads to the port of Taganrog as destination point, which eventually will affect the port's cargo throughput in November-December 2014.

    All these factors greatly limit operations at the port and have a negative impact on the enterprise performance. A decline in cargo traffic has led to a loss of some 40,000-50,000 tonnes in October 2014, which in monetary terms is about 12 million rubles of lost revenue. According to preliminary estimates for this year, the port can lose about one-third of loads and income.

    With the decline in cargo handling cased by decrease in the Taganrog access channel dimensions it becomes extremely unfavorable for the port to lease berths with a total length of 9 km, given that lease prices will most likely be updated at the beginning of next year. If the situation with the channel and improvement of navigation conditions in the Taganrog approach channel (i.e. bringing its characteristics to projected ones) is not solved as soon as possible, given annual revision of rental rate, the port operations will cease to be profitable within the next 3 to 5 years.

    The saddest thing is that the delay in dredging, deepening of the access channel has already led to irreversible consequences: more and more skilled employees quit (dockers and machine operators, warehouse workers, engineers and technical workers). And all this occurs at the Port of Taganrog being one of five core enterprises in the region.

    Sofia Vinarova.