Asian fusion revives Gdansk’s Hanseatic roots

The Port of Gdansk has unveiled plans to double its cargo volumes to 100 million tons a year. The ancient Polish city is again at the crossroads of history thanks to Singaporean investment and Chinese trade.

“The Port of Gdansk wants to take back the crucial role that it enjoyed at the time when Poland ruled this part of the world,” the Port of Gdansk Authority vice-president for infrastructure, Marcin Osowski, told reporters recently.

“We were the center of gravity for trade in the region. This changed during the Prussian era, but it is changing again today,” Osowski said. “With developments such as the New Silk Road and Brexit, our role as a European gateway is gaining importance again.”

Enter Singapore

In May, the Singapore port operator bought DCT Gdansk, saying it aimed to position Gdansk as the “gateway to the Baltic.”

“Gdansk’s unique location makes it the ideal gateway port to Central Eastern Europe and a transhipment hub for the Baltic,” DCT Gdansk Deputy CEO Laurent Spiessens said. The Port of Gdansk grew by 20% in 2018 and 9% this year, the CEO said. It handled 50 million tons of all types of cargo in 2018 and is forecast is to reach 100 million tons by 2030, he went on.

Work underway

Osowski said there are plans to build a €2.8 billion ($3.1 billion) Euro Central Port. “This will be the biggest maritime investment project in Europe,” he said. The infrastructure investment program of €591 million will be split between public and private finance.

Osowski said the proposals for the Central Port include building 19 kilometers (12 miles) of quays, 8.5 kilometers of breakwaters and nine terminals, four turning areas and three approach fairways. The terminals could be used for containers, passengers, offshore operations, LNG operations and shipbuilding.

Competitive advantages

Bunkering operations at the port will also be increased to save ships time traveling to Kaliningrad for fuel, Port of Gdansk CFO Slawomir Michalewski believes. “Gdansk is the only port on the Baltic capable of taking the biggest container vessels in the world from Asia,” he said.

Plans to regenerate Poland’s inland waterways network to accommodate more freight along the Vistula river are also being made, he added.

The port already has a strong modal split, with 33% of container handling by rail, which can be raised to 50%, Osowksi said. The ports of Bremerhaven and Hamburg in Germany had modal splits of 46% and 43% respectively in 2017.

The hinterland

Gdansk has the best hinterland connections into Central and Eastern Europe, reaching 120 million people, Spiessens says. The natural hinterland of the port consists of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland.

To Belarus and Slovakia, Poland is preparing new direct rail connections and a direct rail link to Minsk is in the pipeline, with the purpose of tapping into rail freight traffic between China and Europe. Traffic from Minsk today arrives in Gdansk either via a rail link through Warsaw, or via the Lithuanian port of Klapeida, the main rival of Gdansk in the Baltic Sea. But with a direct rail link from Gdansk to Minsk this could change, Dominik Landa, commercial director at DCT Gdansk, said.

Transshipment of cargo as a cost at the port is much lower than in Klapeida, Landa said. “In Gdansk you pay for border transshipment; in Klapeida you pay terminal handling charges, feeder slot cost and inventory cost of stored cargo. The total cost of a feeder slot and inland transport to Minsk via Gdansk is 15% lower than via Klaipeda.”

The Port of Gdansk is also preparing a direct rail link to Zilinia in Slovakia, to shorten the route that now runs via Warsaw and Katowice. It already has a direct link to Ostrava in the Czech Republic.

The flow of cargo exported from the Czech Republic by sea to non-EU countries constitutes about 27% of the land-locked country’s total exports.

Taking on German ports

Such direct lines to the hinterland enable the port to compete with the port of Hamburg, explains Landa. “From Ostrava, the route to Gdansk is 30% lower in costs than the route to Hamburg or Koper; from Zilina the costs are 20-50% lower,” he noted.

According to Osowksi, the new rail link will also enable Gdansk to compete with Duisburg, the main European hub for Eurasian traffic. “With this rail link, we want to show that the port of Gdansk is able to position itself as a versatile port capable of handling the growing volumes coming from China,” he said.

One of the key impediments is the maximum speed of rail freight traffic in Poland of 30 kmph (18 mph), compared with the EU average of 40 kmph, and Germany’s 50 kmph. Poland has an ambitious plan to improve its railway network. The National Railway Program to 2023 promises to invest €15.5 billion in the railway network, upgrading 18,000 kilometers of track.