Throughput of the Azov Sea ports increased last year but it is going down this year. In his interview with IAA PortNews, Sergey Safonichev, head of Azov Sea Ports Administration, told about the grain market influence on turnover of ports and about challenges which port authorities face in winter.
- In 2020, throughput of the Azov Sea ports rose by 8%, year-on-year, despite the coronavirus and unfavorable economic situation. Mr. Safonichev, how do you explain that dynamics?
- Despite the challenges faced by the seaborne transport amid the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions thereof, the Azov Sea ports demonstrated a general growth of results in 2020. The number of calls rose by 5.2% versus the year of 2019 while throughput of sea terminals increased by 8.1%. Seaports of Rostov-on-Don and Kavkaz were the leaders in terms of throughput growth.
Grain accounted for the largest share of throughput, about 40%, due to a rich crop in the Rostov Region and in the Krasnodar Territory. In 2020, handling of grain in the ports of the Azov Sea Basin rose by over 43%.
- What results are expected this year?
- This year is not as good in the beginning. Over the first four months of 2021, the number of calls registered at the seaports of the Azov Sea fell by 20%, year-on-year, to 4,390. Consequently, throughput of sea terminals decreased respectively, by 8.7%, year-on-year, to 19.2 million tonnes.
Among the key causes of the situation is the reduction of grain handling due to introduction of restrictions. However, the total result of 2021 is expected to be as high as that of the last year.
- What are other cargoes typical for stevedoring companies operating in the Azov Sea ports?
- As I have told already, grain accounts for the highest proportion in total throughput of the Azov Sea ports. The recent years have seen a considerable growth in this segment.
Besides, oil products and coal traditionally make quite a portion. Just like other types of cargo – mineral fertilizers, liquid food, general and containerized cargo, ore, metal scrap and chemicals – remain flat versus the volumes of the previous year.
- Do the Azov Sea ports have a potential for growth?
- The Azov Sea ports have a considerable potential for growth in terms of throughput and in terms of cargo range expansion.
Port facilities develop in two directions: the current cargo flows and the promising ones. Both of them require introduction of advanced and innovative technologies for port infrastructure development.
The recent years have seen a significant growth of grain production, especially in the southern regions. Our ports take over part of the growing flows of export grain. Therefore, port infrastructure related to grain handling is undergoing development and modernization.
In this respect, I would like to note a strong interconnection of all components in the transport industry. Port development is impossible without modernization of fleet including icebreakers, tugboats and auxiliary ships. In this area the state undertakes significant steps to ensure favorable conditions for stimulation of modern ships construction and operation under the flag of Russia. The most demanding challenge for us is to ensure smooth operation of ports round the year.
- Throughput of Rostov-on-Don port has doubled from 8 to 16 million tonnes over a decade. What are its prospects?
- As Russia’s largest seaport on the Azov Sea, Rostov-on-Don is showing a dynamic development and it has additional capability to increase the turnover. The analysis of the available port facilities confirms the ability of throughput increase by up to 20%. Besides, the potential of growth is determined by the expected launch of the Bagayevsky hydrosystem. It can also be driven by introduction of year round navigation on inland water ways.
- Let’s talk about the winter period. What icebreakers were involved, what ice restrictions were in force?
- The freezing begins from the eastern part of the shallow Taganrog Bay and ice navigation season begins in the ports of Taganrog, Azov and Rostov-on-Don while the on river can remain ice-free.
Harbour Masters of the above-mentioned ports announced the beginning of icebreaker assistance period from 7 December 2020.
Ice navigation season in the port of Yeisk began one day later, from December 8 and ended on March 15, three days before it ended I Rostov-on-Don, Azov and Taganrog. Thus the entire period at those ports lasted for 101 days, in Yeisk – for 97 days. The approaches and the water areas of Temryuk and Kavkaz ports were ice free this winter.
Hydrometeorolgical and ice conditions were moderate last winter.
According to the Layout of Icebreakers in Freezing Ports of the Russian Federation in 2020-2021 approved by Rosmorrechflot, the following line icebreakers were deployed for operation in the Azov Sea: Kapitan Moshkin, KapitanDemidov, KapitanChudinov, Kapitan Metsaik and Kapitan Krutov. Besides, port icebreaker Kapitan Kharchikov operated in the port of Taganrog, Muromets and Fanagoria – in the port of Rostov-on-Don and Azov, General Rayevsky and Kolguyev – in Yeisk.
In the winter navigation season of 2020 – 2021, a total of 4,279 vessels were escorted at the ports of Rostov-on-Don, Azov, Taganrog and Yeisk. Total cargo throughput of those ports was 8.5 million tonnes.
As for prospects of icebreaker assistance at the ports of the Azov Sea, there are some problems including almost unsolvable ones and those that can be solved through simple organizational measures.
For example, modernization and expansion of icebreaking fleet is needed to ensure stable operation.
There is a shortage of port icebreakers able to operate efficiently on the Lower Don to assist maneuvering of vessels at the ports of Rostov-on-Don and Azov.
Besides, the capacity of the Don river’s lower reaches and the Azov-Don Canal does not allow for unlimited building up of the ship traffic. The Azov-Don Canal is 70 meters wide. In winter, it operates in a one-way mode. Two-way traffic is not allowed at some sections with rapids. It is really hard even with the current flow of ships.