• 2022 June 8

    Obscure port for Belarus

    Leningrad Region Governor Aleksandr Drozdenko promised Belarus President to place “some port facilities” in the region under Belarus’ management and to provide some sites for construction of a port. Those sites and facilities are behind a shroud of secrecy while experts speak about the need to build a dedicated covered terminal.

    After a recent meeting with Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko, Leningrad Region Governor Aleksandr Drozdenko said that “some port facilities” in the region can be placed under Belarus’ management and some sites can be provided for construction of their own facilities.

    The issue of handling Belorussian cargo such as oil products and potash fertilizers has been on the agenda for a long time due to the increased tensions between Belarus and the Baltic states the ports of which used to handle Belorussian cargo earlier. The issue of oil products was resolved to a certain extent last year while the situation with potash is still uncertain.

    Annual volumes of Belorussian potash are really high – 11-12 million tonnes. Meanwhile, fertilizers are in high demand amid the global food crisis. However, Russia has no dedicated facilities for handling of potash in such volumes.

    Although the construction of terminals for mineral fertilizers (Ultramar and UralChem) is in full swing in Ust-Luga, they are intended for a different cargo base. In fact, Russia used to export about 8 million tonnes of mineral fertilizers via the ports of the Baltic states and now, amid sanctions, it has to find facilities for their quick redirection to the country’s own ports.

    Leningrad Region Administration told IAA PortNews they cannot reveal details on which facilities or sites are to be provided to Belarus.

    Experts think that handling of fertilizers in containers or big-bags could be a temporary solution. Yet, one tenth of the announced volumes can hardly be exported this way.

    When commenting for IAA PortNews, independent transport expert Sofia Katkova said: “it is reasonable to opt for containers but their shortage can slow down the process. And it does not work perfectly for potash: its volumes are large and it is more reasonable to ship them by Panamax bulkers.”

    Only one solution is obvious: construction of a dedicated covered terminal with a sufficient depth for handling bulkers of that size. The best sites for it are the ports of Primorsk or Murmansk. However, the construction of a dedicated terminal from scratch will take years, especially in view of the ecological aspect of the project which will certainly face public outcry similar to that in respect of the project on construction of a grain terminal in the Batareynaya Bay in the Leningrad Region.

    A large-scale project is being implemented in the port of Primorsk – Primorsk Universal Loading Complex (Primorsky UPK). The project foresees the construction of a terminal with a covered storage area for handling 7 million tonnes of mineral fertilizers per year. Perhaps, Belarus could export part of its fertilizers via that terminal.

    Amid the sanctions and restrictions on supply of Russian coal to Europe, coal facilities in the North-West region are getting less needed. Some of them could be probably converted for handling of Belarus’ fertilizers.

    For example, coal terminal in the port of Vysotsk, Leningrad Region, saw a considerable decrease of throughput last year. The port is able to accept Panamax bulkers. Under consideration is the construction of facilities for handling grain. Handling of fertilizers could be considered as well.

    In Murmansk, a large coal terminal, Lavna, is under construction. A deep-water berth of 660 meters in length will allow for simultaneous handling of two bulkers with a deadweight from 20,000 to 150,000 tonnes. The Kola Bay does not freeze. Therefore, Lavna terminal will operate round the year without involving icebreakers. Design capacity of Lavna set at 18 million tonnes of coal per year seems to be excessive in the current circumstances. So, it could include facilities for handling of fertilizers. However, the capacity of railway approaches to Murmansk is questionable.

    Anyway, experts asked by IAA PortNews do not see any efficient opportunity to handle 11 million tonnes of Belorussian potash at the facilities currently available in Russia.

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Vitaliy Chernov