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  • 2016 November 15

    Anatoly Balakin: “Our target is to turn the port into a hi-tech terminal of round-the-year operation”

    Port Posiet is one of the largest coal ports in Russia. Anatoly Balakin, Managing Director of Commercial Port Posiet JSC, tells IAA PortNews about the company’s development plans, its environmental and production activities.

    -    Mr. Balakin, how is the project of port’s technical upgrading going on? How much has been invested by today. What are the further tasks?

    - The project on modernization of port facilities and building up its throughput is being implemented in line with the strategy of coal industry development in Russia. By 2030, annual exports of Russian coal to the Atlantic markets are to reach 60 mln t, to the APR countries - 110 mln. Westward/eastward exports of Russian coal will make 35%/65% accordingly. Modernization of the port will make it more attractive for consignees in the strategically important Asian region. This is perfectly clear for us and our colleagues in the stevedoring business who upgrade their facilities in the Far East.

    On a long-term horizon it is obvious that the demand for Russian coal, first of all metallurgical one, will grow in Asia. Also, it is too early to disregard thermal coal. In the nearest decade, despite diversification of sources, coal will remain the key material for production of electricity, particularly in the Asian region where new TPP are to be put into operation. As for coking coal spot prices, its premium grades saw a 4-fold increase from $70 FOB Australia in 2015 to $300 in November 2016. This is, probably, the key reason for prompt construction of dedicated coal terminals in the Far East region. Coal is shipped from Commercial Port Posiet to Japan, China, S. Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, India with the first three countries consuming the bulk of coal. There are also new markets.

    The purpose of upgrading is to turn the port into a hi-tech coal terminal of round-the-year operation complying with the latest requirements on transshipment and storage of dusty materials. We have arranged indoor handling of coal with the use of wagon dumpers. It is the key feature of the new transshipment facility as this lets us facilitate unloading of wagons and considerably suppress dust and reduce industrial noise. Equipment of the loading/unloading facilities is operated automatically. Sensors and controllers collect data, analyze it and forward to the central control board, which is a principally new practice.

    Mechel has invested RUB 3.7 bln into the project. From the very start of port modernization, its capacity has surged 8 times. The port is currently able to handle up to 7 mln t of coal per year, which is the design capacity. In the 10-month period the port handled about 6 mln t of cargo.

    As for long-term prospects, we have a plan on expansion the capacity but everything will depend on the macroeconomic environment.

    - Most of the port’s handling equipment is of German origin. What is your opinion about cooperation with ThyssenKrupp?

    - We are positive about our cooperation with ThyssenKrupp. The company has been long in the market of services on creation of dedicated coal terminals. It has an extensive experience in designing and construction works worldwide, including Russia. Throughout the construction at port Posiet the company’s team of specialists was present at the site as well as representatives of subcontractors supplying specialized equipment who were available when necessary.

    - How was the assembling, adjusting and testing of the equipment held? Did you have to change any project solutions?

    - Initial plans on technical upgrading of port Posiet were amended. The project provided for changing the technology of coal unloading and delivery to the place of shipload accumulation and storage as well as the technology of coal loading into the ship hold. Within phase I of the modernization we were initially going to build a new berth with a loading conveyors, transfer houses and tension stations. Taking into consideration the last three years that were difficult for Mechel Group as a whole and its transport division in particular – I mean a hard process of debt restructuring – construction of the new berth was put off.

    - How is the transshipment process arranged now? What is the capacity of your equipment?

    - With our new equipment we can unload up to 400 wagons per day (about 28,000 t of coal) and load some 30,000 t of coal onto vessels. Almost all transshipment operations are currently held at the dedicated terminal and we apply different technologies in summer and in winter period. 

    In winter, frozen coal in wagons is cut into vertical seams and then wagons are heated with the infrared radiators to ensure complete unloading of wagons. 

    - Surely you have studied the experience of global coal stevedores. Which aspects, in your opinion, should be of the highest priority?

    - First of all, the environmental ones. We set the bar high for ourselves. One of the key goals of the modernization is to minimize the environmental impact. Each component of the technological process features its own solutions on enhancing environmental safety: water spraying at the open storage facilities and in the process of coal piling or loading.

    There are solutions to be thoroughly studied before they are put into practice. 

    Among them are wind protection screens of different types and special chemicals for gluing silt as it is done in Rotterdam , Europe’s largest sea port.

    - What is your opinion about the closed facilities for coal storing and transshipment? Is it viable? Experts are at variance over the matter.

    - Under the project on the port upgrading a number of operations is to be performed in closed facilities: unloading of coal wagons, shifting and accumulation of empty wagons within the transborder building, transportation of coal from the site of unloading to the storage facility, magnet cleaning and crushing of coal to prevent coal dust spreading and to decrease industrial noise.

    The technology applied at the port cannot guarantee 100% protection from coal dust during loading/unloading operations as storage area is open and the wind will cause dust spreading. 

    As for transition to a completely closed technology, it is very expensive today and requires strong measures on preventing methane generation and fires at closed storage facilities. By the way, there are no large coal ports of this kind in the world today. 

    In Russian ports, large volumes of coal are transshipped through an outdated clam-type method which causes damages to wagons. Fortunately, it is almost forgotten at port Posiet due to its modernization. 

    - Which measures to improve environmental safety are used at the port?

    - The project provided for the use of different solutions that are at different levels of introduction: aspiration system in closed facilities; water system for dust suppression at open storage yards; sprinkler system; storm water treatment system; sewage treatment system with deacidification and biological treatment.

    - Does the company have its own port fleet?

    - Our company does not have its own port fleet. The vessels operating at port Posiet are owned by FSUE Rosmorport.

    - Do you think that the efforts of Russian Railways on the development of approaches to the Far East ports are sufficient? Does the railway capacity meet your demands and the demands of other port projects in the region?

    - The approaches to the port have a bottleneck at the Baranovsky-Hasan section. Under the Federal Targeted Programme “Development of Russia’s Transport System in 2010-2020” this section will undergo the reconstruction. Upon its completion, Baranovsky-Hasan section will have the capacity of 12.3 mln t. With all the demands announced by shippers in the region, this section will see the capacity deficit of 10 mln t per year in several years. 

    In this context, we discuss different mechanisms of interaction with Russian Railways. For example, we look into reconstruction of receiving-and-departure tracks at Posiet station of the Far East Railway. The calculations show it will increase the capacity of the Baranovsky-Hasan section. The solution is in the higher train tonnage. It is necessary to extend the tracks at Posiet station to receive coal trains of up t o 6,300 t and up to 71 wagons.

    - What other coal suppliers (apart from Mechel) are represented at port Posiet?

    In late 2015, we started handling export products of third party companies. We have contracts with RZhD Logistics JSC and Holding Company SDS-Ugol. The products of third party companies will account for the some 20% of the port’s throughput. It is an acceptable level for us.

    Interviewed by Nadezhda Malysheva