Issue 2, 2019. April-May

   

EXPLAINER: ANAKLIA DEEP-SEA PORT

The planned Black Sea deep-sea port is expected to bolster Georgia's role in the region as a transit and logistics hub

The Anaklia Deep Sea Port is often described as Georgia's most important infrastructure project.

The construction and development of a deep sea port on Georgia's Black Sea coast is by no means singular in purpose:

In the short term, the port would serve to further expand the region's connectivity, opening up sea shipments coming in from the Black Sea region and beyond. That will allow for shipments by boat to enter the markets of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia on a scale they are currently unable to. Looking further abroad, Anaklia could serve as a transit point between China and Europe, with Iran, India and Central Asia all standing to gain significantly as well.

Where did Anaklia get its start?

Located 140 kilometers north of Georgia's Black Sea town of Batumi, Anaklia has a long history of almost but not quite being on the map.

The Soviet Union looked at the idea of building a port in the area back in 1984, but the idea was only seriously floated under Mikheil Saakashvili's presidency.

Saakashvili was enthusiastic about the project but it never formally took off during his administration.

The idea of a deep sea port in Anaklia received new life in 2015 when the Georgian Dream government announced a tender for the port to be built, and the JSC Anaklia Development Consortium was selected over another bidder.

Development and investment

Construction officially kicked off in December 2017.

Work on dredging the bed of the port began in September 2018, led by Dutch company Van Oord. To date, more than five million cubic meters of sand has been removed from the seabed.

The port will be constructed in a series of nine phases, with some of the most important aspects including a 2.25 km quay wall, a 2.9 km breakwater and break and dry and liquid bulk berths.

It will ultimately have a total holding capacity of 100 million tonnes.

The total cost of the port alone is estimated at $2.5 billion.

To date, 180 lari ($70 million) has been invested in the project, and negotiations for sums of $220 million and $400 million are in the process, the Anaklia Development Consortium says.

The current plans call for the port to have the capacity to handle 900,000 shipping containers in phase one.

The berths will be spread out over 60 hectares of land and will be able to handle about 1.5 million tons of goods. By the end of the second phase of development, scheduled for 2030, the port will be able to accept up to 14 million tonnes of goods per yea.

That figure will rise to 100 million tonnes by 2080.

Anaklia's competitive edge

A deep sea port in Anaklia would have a number of advantages.

Director of the Transport Corridor Research Center Paata Tsagareishvili says Anaklia will be able to compete with Mersin (Turkey), Odessa (Ukraine), Novorossiysk (Russia), Klaipeda (Lithuania), Ventspils (Lithuania), Bander Abbas (Iran) and Romanian ports.

Tsagareishvili notes that a combination of factors may have the potential to truly make Anaklia a preferable option for shippers.

"These are all deep sea ports, and we must find an advantage in competition with them. The development of Anaklia Port will be facilitated by, for example, political tension in Ukraine, the existing sanctions against Iran, and the fact that getting to a Baltic Sea port is possible only through Russia, which limits their efficacy," he says.

Tsagareishvili adds that "the Turkish port of Mersin is not very accessible in winter, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars train line faces similar, seasonal issues."

But the boon of Anaklia won't be the bane of other ports in the country, Tsagareishvili says, which will need to make their own niche and their operations more effective.

"It is necessary for ports in Batumi and Poti to avoid overlay [with Anaklia]. For example, chemical cargo that pass through Central Asia in high volumes should be distributed through the port of Poti, while Batumi is set to handle petroleum products," he says.

Anaklia in the big picture

The Georgian government sees Anaklia as playing a key role not only in the region, but in trans-Eurasian transport as well.

Of particular importance in this regard is China's Belt and Road Initiative (also known as the One Belt, One Road initiative) - a vast development strategy put forward by China which aims to connect the global trade economy through a series of trade and shipping routes extending across the world.

"[Anaklia] is of strategic importance for us - it is part of our strategy and vision of turning Georgia into a regional transport and logistics hub. The government has done its utmost for the project to become a priority for leading global financial institutions," Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze said in early March.

When it comes to serving as a regional transport and logistics hub, Anaklia's role would be filling in one of the largest missing link in what is known as the Middle Corridor, or the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TMTM) - an international transport corridor that runs through China, Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia and further on into Turkey and European countries.

Should the Middle Corridor be able to stand on its own two legs, the ramifications would be enormous.

"More than 99 percent of land cargo [from the Far East] is transported through the Russian corridor, and not even one percent is transported through the Middle Corridor," head of NGO Hub Georgia Vaso Urushadze says.

"This is a form of political dependence, and now the West wants this transport corridor to be diversified...We have more allies in the world than Russia, starting with China and ending with the countries of Central Asia and Western countries. They are ready to allocate financial resources for the development of transport and logistics infrastructure in Georgia," Urushadze notes.