Director-General of Port of Baku: new location opens up new opportunities
In 2018, the Port of Baku moved from the capital of Azerbaijan to Alat located 70 km to the south. In the second part of the interview, the Director-General of the port, Taleh Ziyadov, tells on how the new location affected the operations of the enterprise and about the development of the maritime terminals.
You said earlier that the Port of Baku handled about 5 million tons of freight in 2020 and expected further growth in the future. Is the enterprise ready for expansion?
At the moment, the capacity of our port is 15 million tonnes, including 100,000 TEU containers. At the same time, the freight traffic in 2020 amounted to almost 5 million tonnes. Therefore, we have opportunities to increase transhipment volumes.
I would like to clarify that 15 million tonnes are far from the limit; this is the capacity of the first stage of the port. It is also planned to build the second phase of the project, which will result in increasing the port’s capacity to 25 million tons, including 500,000 tonnes of TEU containers.
When will the second phase of the new port development start?
Everything needs to be looked at pragmatically. Initially, we need to complete the first stage. When we approach the planned 15 million tonnes, then it will be possible to start implementing the second stage. I think in five years we will be able to determine a more precise date. Now it’s too early to discuss this issue.
What about your immediate plans? For example, for the current year.
This year we want to build a new, separate terminal for transhipment of mineral fertilisers. Its planned capacity is about 2.5 million tonnes per year. This terminal will be created specifically for freight from Central Asia.
Will the existing railway infrastructure of the port cope with the delivery of goods after the launch of the new terminal?
Completely. Now the port has 11 spur tracks. For the first stage, this is quite enough. Moreover, our main task is not to collect the wagons, but to run to the end customer. At the same time, we will build additional routes for specific needs. For example, we are planning the construction of a grain terminal, to which a new separate railway line will be laid.
You are talking about the reserve capacity, but a few years ago I came across information about the hitch with the handling of cargo in the port. How did you manage to tackle this problem?
Indeed, once upon a time, we had the problems you mentioned. Previously, the port was placed within the city of Baku, in this regard, there were restrictions on the movement of trucks on city streets, there were problems with the railway. For this reason, the country’s government decided in 2007 to relocate port facilities from Baku to Alat, 70 kilometres south of the capital of Azerbaijan.
And how did this decision affect the port’s cargo turnover?
The relocation of the port to Alat was very timely. This allowed the authorities of the capital to unload the streets from lorries. This decision had a positive impact on the development of the port itself. Alat has a convenient geographic location, it is situated at the intersection of several highways leading to Georgia, Iran and Russia, and also has a reliable railway connection as well as modern infrastructure. Previously, the old ro-ro terminal had only one pier for ferries carrying trucks. All that allowed for increasing the truck traffic at the port. Now there are two berths in Alat. A completely new port in Alat has been operational since May 2018, now all freight is handled only here. And on the site of the old port, a beautiful park has been created and new business centres are being built.
What other important changes can you note in the development of the port, in addition to relocating to Alat?
In recent years, we have seen an intensification of ferry traffic in the Caspian Sea. In particular, Turkmenistan purchased two ro-ro ships. Also, a similar service is provided by the Azerbaijan Shipping Company (ASCO), which owns two vessels of the same type.
There is another trend in the new port. Previously, conventional ferries were used to transport containers across the Caspian Sea. Now shipping lines use specialised container ships for this purpose. As of today, container ships regularly run only between Aktau and Baku but a new line to transport containers towards Turkmenistan has been scheduled to launch this year.
How did the development of transportation along the Trans-Caspian or Middle Corridor impact the port of Baku?
Very positive. I would like to note that the increase of container transhipment and the intensification of ferry lines is taking place precisely within the framework of the development of the Trans-Caspian international transport corridor, where the Port of Baku actively participates. Several years ago, the corridor members agreed on a joint tariff, which acted as a serious stimulus for the above-mentioned trends. By the way, this corridor may receive in the future another route for carrying goods.
Which route do you mean?
Last autumn, there was a conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. As a result, Azerbaijan returned its territories along the border with Iran, illegally held by Armenia. Consequently, it becomes possible to restore the Baku – Alat – Horadiz – Ordubad – Julfa – Nakhichevan railway. This line partially passes through Armenia; in the 1990s, the section of this line between Ordubad and Horadiz was dismantled.
Why is the mentioned railway important?
The revival of this branch could open a new route to Iran, towards Tabriz. It’s worth noting that during the Soviet period, Julfa station was a border hub on the way to Iran and handled more than 3 million tonnes of freight annually. In the future, it is planned to construct a direct connection between Nakhichevan and Turkey towards the city of Kars to connect this branch with the Baku – Tbilisi – Kars highway. Thus, the Baku – Tbilisi – Kars line will have two routes (via Tbilisi and Nakhichevan). Each new route provides additional opportunities for moving freight.
You mentioned the Trans-Caspian corridor. Then I will ask a follow-up question about the development of the so-called northern branch through the Black Sea to Ukraine and further to Poland. How do things stand here?
This route began to actively develop in 2018. Last year, the traffic volumes slightly decreased. Perhaps, this is due to the pandemic. Or maybe due to the launch of new container trains from China to Ukraine via Russia. However, this route remains very promising, especially for communication with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. I believe that the further success of this direction requires a champion who would in every possible way contribute to the development of transportation on the route.