Port of Gdańsk: unlocking Asian markets and landlocked Europe

Port of Gdansk
After the world’s largest container operator, PSA International, sunk $1.3bn into DCT Gdańsk, the Port of Gdańsk has been expanding rapidly to meet increasing demand from both Asian markets and its landlocked hinterland. We spoke to the port’s VP for Infrastructure just before the Singapore Maritime and Business Mixer.

The transport and logistics landscape in Poland seems to be shifting before our eyes. All the modes have begun to invest heavily to leverage the country’s strategic location, including its access to the Baltic Sea. The government has used EU Cohesion funds efficiently to extend the road and motorway network to 4005km with another 4000 km in the pipeline. The planned Solidarity Transport Hub has aspirations of becoming an air and high-speed rail hub for the CEE region. Meanwhile, the Port of Gdańsk has become Europe’s fastest growing port, recording more than 20% volume growth last year. In just ten years, it has nearly tripled its processing volume from 17.7m tonnes in 2008 to 49m in 2018.

The Port of Gdańsk is the largest deepwater port on the Baltic Sea and the only facility in the region equipped to receive direct vessel calls from Asia. “We get two regular deepwater services from China, South Korea and Singapore,” said Marcin Osowski, Vice President for Infrastructure, on Poland Today’s last PT Live episode. “We are becoming the biggest transhipment hub for the Baltic Sea and some parts of the North Sea.”

But containerised cargo is only half of the story –  or to be exact, 40% of total volume. “Last year, [containerised cargo] was about 2 million TEUs, but total cargo handling in 2018 was 50 million tonnes,” he said. Along with ferry passenger traffic, the other 60% of its operations comprises bulk cargo ( e.g. coal, iron ore, grain, fertilisers), heavy machinery, timber and autos, which are processed at the port’s multi-purpose inner quays situated in the Port Canal. The outer port in the Gulf of Gdańsk is fitted out to receive larger vessels and handle raw materials such as liquid fuels, coal and liquefied gas. 

Versatility lays at the heart of its operations and ethos, so much so that its logo features seven different coloured spots to represent the seven types of cargo the port processes. Osowski revealed that the port is set to become even more agile as it implements its new €2.8 billion Euro Central Port plan, which will see the development of nine versatile terminals.

“The beauty of this project is it all depends on the market,” he said.  “If the operators say no to containers in 10 years, we can easily convert a terminal into, for example, a passenger terminal and wait for better times.” And vice versa, the infrastructure will have the capacity to return to its original function when the market rebounds. 

Not that there are any signs that traffic will lessen in the coming years, especially considering the growth of the port’s hinterland connections. “The region has 100 million consumers with GDP growth of about 4% in total,” he said. “The total volume of these economies is comparable, for example, to the German economy.”

Combined with a €20 million investment to increase the port’s rail network from four to seven tracks, the authority’s aim is to position itself as the first-choice port for the landlocked countries in the region, such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Belarus and Ukraine. Such is the growth potential that the authority plans to open a trade office in Minsk. 

Further afield, the access and the attractiveness of the port should only increase with the intensive development of the region’s road and rail infrastructure. Along the north-south corridor, the port stands to benefit from the development of the transnational highway network ‘Via Carpathia’, connecting Thessaloniki in Greece to the Baltic ports.

The authority has also invested in the Three Seas Initiative designed to bridge the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas – the port signed an MOU with the Port of Rijeka in 2017 to explore new ways to leverage this corridor. 

Osowski said that he was particularly excited about the rapid development of the railway infrastructure along the east-west corridor powered, in part, by the Belt & Road Initiative. The advent of the ‘New Silk Road’ was one of the reasons why the authority chose to open its first international trade office in Shanghai.

“For the first time in over 500 years, Poland and the Port of Gdańsk finds itself on a major corridor in global trade,” he said. “Because the Atlantic Ocean is not the only main highway, but potentially, the landmass of Eurasia can become a second major trade route.”

The authority is not only targeting China but South-East Asia, particularly Singapore. “Why Singapore?” he posited. “Because in the first half of the year, PSA International from Singapore, the largest container operator in the world, successfully purchased DCT  Gdańsk.” The deal was made in collaboration with the Polish Development Fund and the IFM Global Infrastructure Fund.

To get the ball rolling, the Port of Gdańsk co-organised the ‘Singapore Maritime and Business Mixer’, which was held in October at the Singapore Hyatt to mark 50 years of diplomatic ties between Poland and Singapore. “We decided to invite Polish blue chips and the largest exporting companies  [from maritime, oil, aviation, mining and tech sectors] to Singapore to establish new contacts and to facilitate the business relationship between Singapore and Poland.”

This new development is projected to double the terminal’s cargo volume to 100m tonnes per year.

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