Yuzhny port is readying itself for larger bulk carriers with the aid of Chinese-led dredging. Stevie Knight reports. Ukraine’s Yuzhny port is targeting a draft that will make it the deepest facility in the whole of the Black and Asov seas region.


The long term aim of Yuzhny is to be a hub on a competitive, maritime strand of China’s Silk Road. Credit: USPA

The long-term aim of Yuzhny is to be a hub on a competitive, maritime strand of China’s Silk Road. Credit: USPA


At a planned 21 metres, the port hopes to capitalise on economies of scale.

“Capesize vessels are growing: to make the iron ore exports competitive with Brazil and South Africa, our operations need to be able to handle 250,000 dwt vessels,” Raivis Veckagans, head of Ukrainian Sea Port Authority (USPA), tells Port Strategy. “So, that’s what we are aiming at here.”

Right now, almost a third of Ukraine’s total traffic is handled by the port and, along with the rest of the region, the numbers are rising; 2016’s figure of 39.3m tonnes jumped by 6.6% to 41.9m tonnes last year. However, organic growth isn’t enough to keep Yuzhny in the lead so Mr Veckagans and his colleagues are intent on sharpening the port’s focus and giving it a clear, commercial edge.

According to Alex Khromov of Informal, “some are calling Yuzhny ‘the Eastern Rotterdam’. There’s no problem with the land, they can build out fairly simply – and they have a lot of plans.”

For example, the reconstruction, strengthening and subsequent dredging at the four main ore and coal berths (numbers 5 to 8), will underpin the shift from state operation to a concession. This should itself usher in a fresh approach, says Mr Veckagans “and a move away from grabs and into modern conveyor belts and efficient unloading technologies”.

Ukraine’s other main export, grain, is finding a new outlet through the $185m Cargill terminal which is being constructed by MV Cargo (the US giant buying back a stake to become both operator and main client). Interestingly, this came from a joint venture between TIS (Ukraine’s largest private stevedore) and its customers who were quick to spot the potential of Yuzhny’s new approach.

Berth 25 will have 5m tonnes of throughput, 10% of Ukraine’s exports, and room for 290,000 tonnes of grain storage: no less than 14 silos of 15,000 tonnes capacity apiece are under construction, along with a warehouse with room for 80,000 tonnes and a railhead that could bring in as much as 9,000 tonnes a day. Once again, ship size dominates the strategy: “We are aiming at loading and unloading Panamax vessels,” says Mr Veckagans.

Box volumes

Containers aren’t an insignificant contributor and although there was a 12% drop at the TIS terminal last year to 70,700 teu, according to Informal, this should be made up for by Maersk’s recent change of rota to take in Yuzhny instead of Odessa. More, the line is co-operating with both TIS and Ukrainian Railways on a twice-weekly box train to Kiev.

As one fly in the ointment is rail capacity – which isn’t large enough at present to support Ukraine’s rising export ambitions – it’s hoped this initiative will grow, eventually linking Yuzhny with other European cities.

All this ties neatly with the long-term aims of the port as a hub on a competitive, maritime strand of China’s Silk Road. Yuzhny, Mr Veckagans explains, could gain a stream of container exports from the east with an outflow, by sea, into Europe.

The scale is the recurring theme here, reflected in Turkey’s alternative to the Bosporus: “The new Istanbul Kanal could open by 2023 and they are thinking in terms of vessels up to 300,000 tonnes as a targeted strategy: we want to be ready,” he says. However, the flow isn’t only in one direction: Yuzhny could provide China with high-grade iron ore and help it achieve its goal of food security with a big chunk of Ukraine’s agribulk.

With this in mind, China Harbour Engineering Company’s first bid-winning proposal (from an international, open tender, points out Mr Veckagans) for deepening the approach, harbour channel and berth 25 “saved us a lot of money and finished in January, three months earlier than scheduled”, he said. Given the success of the first $450,000 bite, it’s no surprise that the second dredging contract -– another international tender – also went to CHEC.

However, USPA doesn’t want its new friendship to end there: “We really want the Chinese partners to be active, investing players in the port, not just a construction company,” says Mr Veckagans. “We hope the recent success story will help move our partnership onto the next stage – operations business – in the future.”

Source: Port Strategy