Container terminal at the Port of Koper

Port of Koper can become a reliable opportunity for exporting goods from Ukraine

2022/08/18 at 2:32 PM

Koper is the largest container port in the Northern Adriatic. Moreover, the Slovenian harbour has every chance of becoming one of the key points for exporting goods from Ukraine. This is the opinion of Mykola Soloviov, a Ukrainian expert on logistics and supply chain management. In an interview with IntermodalNews, he talks about the specifics of delivering containers from Ukraine to Slovenia.

Container terminal at the Port of Koper
Container terminal in the Port of Koper, source: Luka Koper, d.d.

Why do you think that the Port of Koper can become a transit hub for Ukrainian export goods?

All other options do not work very well. Everything is clear with Ukrainian ports. Some of them were recently unblocked but this will clearly not be enough to export the planned volumes of goods. In the few past months, we have been seeing regular traffic jams in the Port of Constanta in Romania, it is working at the limit of its capabilities. Some volumes of the Ukrainian export are being transhipped through Polish ports, but due to problems at the border, when wagons are waiting for weeks, if not months, to be reloaded, this option, in my opinion, will not be able to become a full-scale alternative. This means that Ukrainian exporters and freight forwarders should look for other ways to send their goods. And the Port of Koper can be such a reliable opportunity. The Slovenian harbour has enough free capacity and it is not too far from Ukraine.

And how can the cargo be delivered from Ukraine to Koper? To do this, it is necessary to cross, at least, the territory of Hungary.

I consider the opportunity of organising transport from Ukraine to Koper through Hungary as one of the possible options but not the very promising one. It is about the delivery of containers from the Ukrainian city of Chop, around which several transhipment terminals are located. I haven’t finished evaluating this route yet, as I’m waiting for data from Slovenian Railways. However, transit via Hungary has always been expensive compared to, for example, Slovakia, and its cost continues to rise. Therefore, I do not really believe in the prospects of this route. But we already have about three-five free trucks per week that can deliver goods from Chop to Koper for further stacking of containers.

So will it be cheaper to move containers via Slovakia?

Yes. However, this is not the key point. My idea is to use the existing connections of European carriers such as Metrans. In particular, the mentioned Czech company regularly moves containers from the Slovak city of Košice to Koper. Cargo can be delivered from Ukraine to Košice either by covered wagons or by road transport. The same is with import.

Metrans container train, source: Wikimedia Commons

Could you explain why covered wagons?

You can also use 40-foot containers. In Ukraine, they are now available, but the 20-foot units are almost impossible to find. In turn, covered wagons, both private and those owned by the Ukrainian Railway (Ukrzaliznytsia), are freely accessible. Moreover, even if we find a container, it will still have to be transhipped in Košice or directly in the Port of Koper, since the Metrans terminal there does not have access to a broad gauge, so it is better suited for road transport. There is another intermodal terminal in Košice, owned by Interport. It has access to a broad gauge track, so goods can be brought to it by wagons. In other words, it is possible to combine the capacities of two terminals in Košice.

And what about the delivery time for goods from Ukraine to Koper?

Everything depends on the location of the cargo, its volume, etc. In general, there are many factors, so the cost of transportation must be calculated for each customer separately. As for today, I can only say about the delivery time from Košice to Koper, it is somewhere around 10 days. I am talking about the maximum time, taking into account all possible delays. In general, I estimate that a more realistic delivery time is between five and seven days.

Why such a difference?

First of all, I would like to clarify that this time includes the reloading of cargo from wagons or trucks at the terminal in Košice. Such a difference depends on two factors that must be taken into account. The first is waiting for a place on the train. It is about the situation when the cargo has already arrived in Košice but there is no free place on the nearest train, then you will have to wait for the next one.

Secondly, the traffic from Košice to Koper is quite intense but it has its own specifics. Metrans does not have a direct train from Košice to Koper but it easily combines its routes. In particular, a container from Košice goes to the terminal in Dunajská Streda, and from there to Koper. There are six trains per week running between Košice and Dunajská Streda, i.e. every day except Sunday, and 17 trains per week between Dunajská Streda and Koper. In the latter case, the number of trains depends on the day of the week. For example, only one train departs on Saturdays, and as many as four on Fridays.

Metrans Terminal Košice, source: Metrans

Why did you choose Košice as a transhipment hub on the way from Ukraine to Koper?

This Slovak city is located close to the border with Ukraine. If you use the broad-gauge railway from Uzhhorod or road transport, the distance from the border to Košice is about 90 kilometres. There is another advantage. Currently, most shipping lines are reluctant to supply containers to Ukraine. Some do this but only with a deposit or other conditions, which creates additional difficulties and entails additional costs. At the same time, containers are easily delivered to Košice without any problems.

Moreover, there is another option for shipping containers to Košice apart from broad gauge railway and road transport. In this case, it is necessary to involve the Slovak flat wagons, they can be delivered to Chop on a standard gauge track, where they can be loaded with 40-foot containers and then delivered to Košice without transhipping on the territory of the EU.

However, in this case, ZSSK should be involved in this transport. Will this result in increasing the price of transport?

ZSSK will also have to be involved in the case of cargo delivery to Košice in covered wagons. As for the price, it can go up or down. It depends on the volumes to be moved. In any case, the container will run, and not stand, as we currently see on the borders with Poland and Romania.

Do the Ukrainian companies use the Port of Koper to move their cargo?

The proposed option for cargo transport via the Port of Koper is primarily aimed at small and medium-sized companies with small volumes of goods. For grain transport, this route is not a good alternative. Regarding the use of the above-described supply chain, I am offering it to various Ukrainian companies. Perhaps, the route through the Slovenian port will cost a little more than through Constanța but the cargo will run and not stand for several weeks at the border and in the port. In this case, the owner of the cargo already decides what is better: to wait for an unknown amount of time and lose money, or to pay a little more for delivery and the cargo will run. Not everyone dares to look for new ways but it must be done. If the flow of cargo from Ukraine to Port Koper will grow, then the transport rates will decrease, and delivery time will be shortened. Therefore, it is worth using the opportunity while it exists.

The development of alternative routes for Ukrainian export will be a major issue to discuss at the Intermodal in Poland 2022 conference to take place on 27-29 September in Janów Podlaski. The agenda of the event, registration for participation and other organisational information are available on the dedicated English-language website: https://intermodalinpoland.eu/janow-podlaski-malaszewicze-2022f/

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