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The Port of Riga Follows Global Trends and Is Ready to Accept Large Ships

Increasingly large ships are used in the segment of cargo shipments by sea. The cargo owners wish to reduce their costs and carry out shipments using ships with a greater deadweight capacity is also felt by the Port of Riga. In 2017 the port handled almost 3 times more cargo than in 1997, while the total number of incoming merchant ships dropped from 4,029 in 1997 to 3,422 in 2017. “The trend is clear: the number of ships coming to the port is decreasing, but their capacity increases,” A. Brokovskis, Captain of the Freeport of Riga, commented on the data. Challenges faced by the Port of Riga in handling these giants increase along with the size of ships.

The size of ships has been growing in the Port of Riga particularly rapidly during the past decade. In 2010 the Port of Riga accepted only 110 ships with the deadweight capacity of more than 50,000 tons, while last year their number was 214. The number of large ships has doubled within this period. The main reason for the constant increase in the size of ships is the desire by cargo carriers for cheaper shipments, whereas the recent rapid increase is related to the reconstruction of the Panama Canal. As a result of the reconstruction, the Canal has been widened, and while earlier it was capable of accepting approximately 32m-wide ships, subject to the panamax standard, now the maximum width is 49 m. It was named accordingly, i.e., the new panamax standard, and the Port of Riga must be capable of accepting such ships.

Increasingly, large ships are also new challenges for the Port of Riga. These ships require deeper and wider navigation canals. Over 20 years, almost EUR 90M has been invested in dredging at the Port of Riga. Moreover, investments must be made not only in dredging work, but also in IT infrastructure, navigation systems and employee training. Managing larger ships also requires greater competence of port services and pilots in particular. “If the height of the captain’s command bridge on a panamax-type ship is located at least at the level of the seventh floor, determining the precise distances to the shore or pier is practically impossible. Therefore, nowadays accurate digital tools and equipment are used more and more often. We are living in the 21st century, and centuries-old port professions are also experiencing rapid changes,” the captain of the port highlighted.

The successful handling of large ships at the port does not depend on the depth and width of the navigation canal alone. It requires appropriate infrastructure on the shore as well. Hence, requirements for stevedoring companies operating in the port increase. Jānis Kasalis, Deputy CEO of SIA Rīgas universālais termināls: “In order to handle large ships quickly, we need greater railway and road transport capacity, as well as larger warehouses and modern handling technologies. Likewise, we have invested almost EUR 10M in the extension of the pier to enable the terminal to accept larger ships and operate under new competitive conditions.”