German investor accuses competitors of blockade at Albania’s Durres port

By bne IntelliNews October 1, 2015

Valentina Dimitrievska in Skopje and Clare Nuttall in Bucharest -

 

Terminal operator EMS APO has accused rival companies of blockading its pier at Albania’s Durres port with the support of the port authority. EMS APO managing director Manfred Müller claimed the company is the victim of a deliberate attempt to shut down its business.

The Albanian government has launched several anti-corruption campaigns in a bid to support economic growth and attract international investors. However, the attack on EMS-APO, part of Germany-based EMS-Fehn-Group, is likely to damage Albania’s reputation among investors.

EMS APO said in a September 29 statement that staff members of three rival stevedoring companies had occupied its terminal for more than a week. In addition, its pier at Durres has been blockaded by an unauthorised vessel, forcing the company to stop all activities. A source close to the company confirmed on October 1 that the company’s operations are still being obstructed.

The management of EMS APO says it immediately informed the Durres Port Authority director about the illegal action and asked him to send in police on September 23, but so far there has been no response. Bne IntelliNews’ attempt to contact Durres Port Authority have also met with no response.

In 2013, EMS APO signed a long term leasing and operating agreement for Durres’ East Terminal with the Albanian transport ministry. The company has invested over €5mn into the terminal, which is mainly used for trans-shipment and storing of bulk cargo such as minerals, cement and edible oil.

Albanian ministerial officials have acknowledged EMS APO’s status as a certified stevedoring company, but that did not prevent rival companies from blocking the EMS APO terminal, the company said.

“It is outrageous that the port authority is doing nothing about the illegal occupation of our terminal. We see this as an orchestrated attempt to squeeze EMS APO out of business,” Muller said in a statement. “The latest statement from the Albanian Maritime Directorate makes it perfectly clear that we are working on a lawful basis. The behavior of the Durres Port Authority counteracts all attempts to bring much needed foreign investments to Albania.”

EMS APO managers are now waiting for Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama, who has been attending the UN Summit in New York, to return to the country. The source told bne IntelliNews that EPS APO is hopeful Rama will resolve the dispute, given the importance of Albania’s relationship with Germany. However, Albania currently has a coalition government, and Transport and Infrastructure Minister Edmond Haxhinasto is from the Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI), the junior coalition partner of Rama’s Socialist Party, which could make it more difficult for Rama to enforce a speedy resolution of the conflict.

Rama’s government has attempted to reduce corruption, most recently with a campaign against the informal economy that started on September 1. The government has also claimed success in its war on drugs.

However, Albania is still one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, according to Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index. The 2014 report put Albania in 110th place, on a par with Kosovo and below every other European country except Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. Links between government officials and politicians and organised crime remain a concern, and could hold back Albania’s progress towards EU membership. 

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