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Strong entry of the Oder estuary ports to the game for containers

There is no doubt that the deep-water container terminal in Świnoujście fits perfectly into the expectations of the market. This important project will contribute to radical increase of Szczecin-Świnoujście port complex rank in container traffic in the Baltic Sea region, strengthen the economy of the region and increase Poland’s attractiveness as a place of investment.

In 2019 3.05 million TEU were handled in Polish ports (1 TEU = equivalent of 20ft container). This is the best result among the countries located in the Baltic Sea region. Russia (2.54 m TEU), Finland (1.61 m TEU), Sweden (1.60 m TEU), Denmark (0.87 m TEU), Lithuania (0.70 m TEU), Latvia (0.47 m TEU) and Estonia (0.22 m TEU) were next.

This shows both the size and strength of the Polish economy and the modernity degree of  our container terminals. It should be noted, however, that this undoubted success is the exclusive effect of terminals from the Gdansk Bay area, since in Gdańsk as many as 2073 thousand TEU were handled, and in Gdynia 897 thousand TEU. This means that volumes handled at these two ports account for as much as 97.5% of entire container throughput in all Polish ports. Szczecin-Świnoujście port complex reported 76 thousand TEU, which is only 2.5% of the total Polish port’s volume. This is caused by lack of large terminal here, which would be able to compete with the Gdansk Bay ports. The internal terminal in the port of Szczecin, with one berth available, can provide capacity up to 100 thousand TEU. It can even be said, that currently ports of Western Poland do not count in the game for containers taking place on the Baltic Sea.

Fortunately, there are indications are that this situation is about to change, and that the ports of the Oder estuary will join the fight for the increasing stream of containers appearing each year in the Baltic Sea area. Thanks to the investment in a deep-water container terminal in Świnoujście, where the largest ocean container ships will be able to call. The designed external port will be able to handle up to 2 million TEU per year.

This brings the natural question: will port of Świnoujście be able to handle so many containers? The answer is yes. As Krzysztof Urbaś, President of Szczecin and Świnoujście Seaports Authority points out, in 15-20 years the volume of containers in Polish ports can increase to 8 million TEU. This would mean an increase of 167%. Taking off from a very low base, the Oder estuary port complex, including a modern deep-water container terminal in Świnoujście, has a chance for fantastic, extremely dynamic development.

The example of Gdansk shows how quickly a port with a low number of containers handled can become one of the European leaders. Container volumes increased in this port in 2019 compared to 2007 by astronomical 2039.5% moving Gdańsk to 15th place on our continent. None of Europe's top 15 container terminals has achieved an equally spectacular increase. Piraeus showed the second best performance in terms of dynamics during this period (311.5%), followed by Antwerp (45.0%), with a combined 29.0% increase in the top 15.

The success of the Port of Gdańsk is of course, caused by its favorable location, but also due to the investments in modern port infrastructure enabling calls of large container ships, and their fast and efficient handling. Similar to Gdansk, such dynamics may also be the case of Świnoujście, which from other Baltic competitors is distinguished by the most western geographical location – this way runs the shortest maritime route from Central and Eastern Europe to Scandinavia. The container terminal in Świnoujście will certainly be an important place also for handling of goods sent to and from the East German provinces and the Berlin metropoly, as well as southern Poland (mainly Wielkopolska and Śląsk), Czech Republic and Slovakia. It is also obvious that large container ships entering the Baltic Sea, choosing shorter way to port of Świnoujście instead of Gdansk or Gdynia, will save both time and money. This economic advantage of the new terminal in Świnoujście can prove to be decisive in taking over existing, as well as acquiring new container transports.

There is no doubt that the deep-water container terminal in Świnoujście fits perfectly into the expectations of the market. As shows the experiences of the recent past, life does not tolerate a vacuum. During the time of the Polish People's Republic, the ports of the Oder estuary handled a large part of the transit from the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary or Austria. The lack of investment in modern infrastructure has resulted in the acquisition of these cargoes by other ports, mainly German (mostly Hamburg) and Gdansk Bay ports. This important project will contribute to a radical increase in the rank of the Szczecin-Świnoujście port complex on the container map of the Baltic Sea basin, will strengthen the economy of the region and increase the attractiveness of Poland as the place for investment. Professor Dariusz Zarzecki, University of Szczecin