Graham Stack in Chisinau -
Moldova, aka Europe's poorest country, gave its economy a big boost earlier this year when it gained maritime access by opening a port on the Danube, using its 450-metre stretch of the banks of the Danube lodged between Ukraine and Romania to open a passenger transport terminal in March. Now there are plans to develop a European transport node, port director Edgar Martin tells bne.
As a result of a territorial deal between Ukraine and Moldova in 1999, in return for Moldova ceding a strip of land to Ukraine near Odessa, Moldova received 450 metres of access to Europe's main waterway, the Danube, by the village of Giurgiulesti, at the point where the River Prut flows into the Danube. Ten years later, the tiny post-Soviet country is starting to make the most of its window to the West. Following an oil terminal functioning since 2007, the Giurgiulesti International Free Port (GIFP) received its first passenger vessels in March, sailing to Istanbul. It is a tiny port, but with 7-metre draft, it can take seagoing vessels, ending Moldova's landlocked status. "Giurgiulesti International Free Port is the only port in the Republic of Moldova accessible to maritime and sizeable river vessels, thus the strategic and economic significance of the facility is significant," explains Martin.
Underlying its international status, the port is owned by Dutch EASEUR Holding (80%) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (20%).
To date, GIFP includes an operating maritime oil terminal, office park and an industrial free zone, says Martin. A grain terminal with a storage capacity of about 50,000 tonnes is under construction and is due to start its operations in the third quarter of this year. Following the completion of the grain terminal this summer, a general cargo and container terminal will be constructed until mid-2010.
The port is not just significant for Moldova, however. There are hopes it could develop as a transit node in the Euro-Asian transportation network. "Due to its free-zone status and its tri-modal infrastructure, consisting of the port's location on the Maritime Danube and the River Prut, both Russian and European gauge rail tracks as well as the international road network, GIFP constitutes an excellent logistics hub for Moldova and the entire region," Martin explains.
The Moldovan Transport Agency has recently mooted plans for the site to host a logistics centre for the Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia, which is an international transport programme involving the EU and 14 states of the CIS to development a road corridor between Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia.
And at the end of June, details emerged of further ambitious plans - to use the port to export wine to Russia in purpose-built tankers. Moldovan wine producers, the backbone of the country's economy, are hoping to ship some of the country's bulk wine stockpiles amassed during the Russian wine embargo of 2006-07 to the Russian Black Sea port of Tagan Rog. "Danube Logistics has been in discussion with a number of Moldovan wine producers," confirms Martins. "There are various options for exporting wine by water transport, for example in wine tank containers. This is very realistic and this example fits in with a container terminal project of which we are now at an advanced planning stage."
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