Georgia might not have actually been on route of the ancient Silk Road, but sitting at the crossroads between east and west, straddling trade routes between Asia and Europe, this former Soviet republic is well placed to be part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road projects.
The Black Sea provides a natural gateway, and so Georgia is looking to ports to help it play a major role in China’s plan to revive this network of trade routes from Central Asia to Europe. One of those is the Anaklia Port Project, which involves the construction of a deepwater port at the coastal town of Anaklia, a sleepy resort town that sits on the shortest route from China to Europe.
This project took a big step forward in February when the government awarded the Georgian-US consortium Anaklia Development Consortium (ADC) the right to build the port. Once completed, the 400-hectare port will stretch 2.5 kilometres along the coast. In addition, ADC has received the rights to develop and operate a free industrial zone on about 600ha of adjacent land for 49 years.
Logistics experts maintain that the new facility will give a huge boost to Georgia’s economy, which was hard hit in 2015 by falling oil prices, declining exports and a weakening currency.
“The port can potentially increase the business flow tremendously,” reckons John Braeckeveldt, regional manager of the Belgium-based logistics group Gosselin. “Currently it takes about 40 days for containers from Antwerp to reach Poti due to the stop-over in Istanbul. It is a very busy port and delays are regular practice, not an exception. Bypassing Istanbul would cut the transport time by two to three weeks.”
The delays stem from one of the gaps in Georgia’s transit infrastructure: the inability of the country’s two existing ports at Batumi and Poti to host Panamax-size vessels. Currently, such large ships with Georgia-bound cargo are forced to use other docks in the Black Sea region, mainly Istanbul, where containers are reloaded onto feeder ships, carrying a maximum of 1,700 containers and heading for Batumi or Poti.
Anaklia is not the only facility looking into filling that gap. Last year APM Terminals, part of world’s largest container ship operator AP Møller-Maersk, which operates and has owned an 80% stake in the port of Georgian port of Poti since 2011, announced a “large-scale port expansion” plan. The project, expected for 2018, foresees the construction of two new deepwater berths able to accommodate vessels with capacities of 9,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units) and an annual throughput capacity of 1mn TEU.