Rethinking maritime transport

Since its foundation in 1991, the Baltic Ports Organization (BPO) has always strived to foster relationships between its members and facilitate their co-operation with relevant partners across Europe, to expand the trade opportunities for ports in the Baltic Sea region. True to its mission and vision, in 2018, the Organization actively participated in the discussions of the EU budget for the next financial period (2021-2027), where it highlighted the benefits of Baltic ports being granted sufficient funding to advance their projects.

“The discussions will continue this year and we are pleased that the EU has committed to invest at least as much in transport as it did in the previous programme period between 2014 and 2020. Nevertheless, we hope participantsthat we can secure even more substantial resources to support infrastructure projects in the region,” comments Bogdan Oldakowski, Secretary General of the BPO.

Turning his attention to some of the leading market trends of 2018, Bogdan announces that more and more ship owners operating in the Baltic Sea have placed orders for new LNG-fuelled vessels, taking a direction that is more than welcome for the BPO. “We have been promoting LNG as one of the alternative fuels for the future for quite some time now, and have invested a lot of resources to prepare Baltic ports for LNG bunkering. It is also positive to see LNG infrastructure being developed in various ports, while some bunkering vessels were delivered to some of our locations, too.”

He continues: “New ports are being built at the moment, such as the one in Stockholm that will be dedicated for rolling goods and container traffic. In addition, ports like Rønne, Gdynia, Ystad, and Klaipeda are undergoing extensions, while certain ports in Poland have started a number of existing projects in the area. All these initiatives have been undertaken not only to meet future market demand, but also to create and deploy more modern port facilities with better locations and efficient connectivity with land infrastructure.”

The developments in question are running parallel with the successful performance recorded by BPO’s member ports in the past year and a half. “In 2017, the amount of cargo handled by all Baltic ports exceeded 900 million tonnes for the first time ever. The container sector deserves a special mention, because it has made a good recovery since the downturn in 2014/2015 and has achieved double-digit growth in some ports, and so has the ro-ro sector. Another strong area has been the cruise sector, while the one field that has been more fluctuating is the bulk sector, due to its dependence on energy export from Russia.

“In general, market conditions were positive last year, which reflected in the aforementioned cargo performance. Poland, for example, experienced a high economic growth of more than four per cent and became the first country from the former Soviet bloc to be ranked a ‘developed market’ on the FTSE Russell index. This has led to increasing exports, and, therefore, to an impressive growth in cargo handled. Furthermore, countries that had experienced some decrease in previous years, like Russia and Finland, also saw an upscale in trade and economic growth,” Bogdan adds.

Maintaining its position of an influential body in the European maritime industry, the BPO held its annual Baltic Ports Conference in early September last year, bringing together more than 150 participants in Szczecin, Poland, to discuss some of the most pressing matters relevant to the sector. Among the topics debated were the role of ports in regional and national economic development, the market’s impact on the European maritime transport sector, the challenges posed by Brexit, the impact of automation on port development, the benefits of cleaner EU shipping, as well as the advantages provided by digitalisation.

On the latter subject, the BPO had already held the inaugural Ports 4.0 Conference in Tallinn, in the spring of 2018. Bogdan details: “We are trying to facilitate the discussion between different stakeholders and understand how our members should incorporate digitalisation into their own strategies and operations. In fact, many Baltic ports have already gained experience in making processes more efficient and less costly by utilising new technologies, and our goal is to share these digital practices with port managers.”

For the last two decades, the Baltic Sea region has moved steadily towards the development of strong green credentials. “Arguably one of the most strictly regulated sea areas, authorities have been conscious of the importance of adopting eco-friendly solutions and sustainable practices, but the recent progress we have made in this respect, is also thanks to the ports’ self-initiative, examples of which could be found in their regional approach towards LNG bunkering, the development of facilities for the discharge of sewage from cruises, as well as the growing number of onshore power installations,” Bogdan points out.

Emboldened by these efforts, in 2016, the BPO published a policy paper presenting the Baltic Sea as a model region for green ports and maritime transport. “We were very keen to share our experience in the field of environmental management with other regions in the EU and even beyond the continent, focusing particularly on the promotion and support of LNG as a viable alternative fuel,” Bogdan remarks.

BPO’s schedule for 2019 features multiple activities that will support the Organization’s mission to stay deeply involved in the further development of the Baltic and European maritime sector. With EU budget allocation for the next programme period being one of BPO’s biggest areas of interest, there is no doubt that lobbying to secure sufficient access to the funding for the Baltic port industry will form a great part of the Organization’s work during the year.

“Our event calendar will kick off with the annual BPO Lunch Debate held at the seat of the European Parliament. It will focus on the recent status and future outlook for the Baltic ports within the TEN-T policy, which is a key topic considering the policy’s upcoming revision. An overview of BPO’s recommendations related to the CEF II can be found in the report ‘TEN-T policy and CEF projects in the Baltic – Experience from the past and recommendation for CEF2 (2021-28)’, available to members and selected industry experts. A further report, the ‘Best Practice Guidebook for Handling of Wastewaters in Ports’, prepared in co-operation with the Prüf- und Entwicklungsinstitut für Abwassertechnik at the RWTH Aachen e.V., is awaiting publication in Q1 2019. Sewage from passenger ships is a particularly important topic and will be further discussed during HELCOM’s meeting in Lisbon later this year,” reveals Bogdan.

Reiterating its responsible approach, the BPO will also take part in a seminar that is set to discuss the challenges in monitoring air pollution in port areas. The event will take place during the Transport Week 2019 conference held in Gdynia on 5-7 March and is part of BPO’s work within the ‘Go LNG’ project.

Then, as usual, in September the Organization will hold this year’s edition of the Baltic Ports Conference, the host of which will be Stockholm. Delving into the future of the port sector and examining the challenges ahead, and the innovations that will drive it forward, the event will gather BPO’s members and industry experts looking to inspire each other and spark new ideas that will contribute to the profitable and sustainable development of the maritime industry.

Baltic Ports Organization
Contributes to the sustainable development of the Baltic Sea region’s port industry
Reported growth in the port sector in 2018
Promotes best practices in digitalisation