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Ansis Zeltins, the Freeport of Riga CEO: “The crisis has brought changes and highlighted new opportunities”

Container terminals operating at the port of Riga were among the first ones to face the effects of the global economic crisis caused by COVID-19 at the beginning of this year, when China was hit by coronavirus outbreak, as most container flows in the port of Riga, as elsewhere in Europe, are directly related to the said region’s cargo.

“The volume of container traffic at the terminal started to drop in the second week of March. This was due to a decrease in container imports from China, which was caused by a dramatic drop in China‘s production capacity in February. The chain reaction led to a shortage of empty containers and an increase in the container shipping freight rate, which reduced the volume of container traffic,” comments Dmitrijs Kiselevs, a member of the Board of the SIA “Baltic Container Terminal”, the largest container terminal in the Port of Riga.

“There was an impact on the BCT (Baltic Container Terminal) as well. At the same time, instead of a 30% drop in March, forecasted by us and our clients, container traffic has decreased by only 10% compared to March 2019. That is why the terminal can operate in the conventional mode - the ships are serviced according to the schedule, and the range of services, provided to our clients, is not limited,” - adds Dmitrijs Kiselevs.

In total, 43 container carriers entered the port of Riga and 37.5 thousand TEUs of containerized cargo were handled in March, including the period when an emergency situation was declared in Latvia.

According to the preliminary data on the container cargo turnover in the port of Riga for the first quarter of this year, despite the economically difficult situation in the world it was possible to maintain the total volume of container traffic almost at the level of the first quarter of the previous year – during three first months of the current year 119.2 thousand TEUs of containerized cargo were handled at the port of Riga, which is 3% less than in the corresponding period in 2019.

“In the last two months we experienced mostly negative trends in the container cargo segment at our terminal, but now we are starting to feel the recovery of production capacity in China. Still, right now there is a small demand from China, which could gradually stabilize the situation in container transportation market and prevent the decline in container turnover,” says Janis Kasalis, Member of the Board and Executive Director of SIA “Rīgas Universālais Termināls” (RUT).

“There is an increase in demand from maritime carriers serving the European internal market. At the same time, the reorientation of road freight to rail transport increases the flow of refrigerated containers via our terminal by rail to Central Asian countries and Kazakhstan,” adds Mr. Kasalis.

In three weeks since the declaration of the emergency situation, 171 cargo vessels have called the port of Riga, handling a total of 1.43 million tons of various cargo - forestry products, coal, containers, grain and agricultural products, oil products, construction materials, etc. The services, provided to the said vessels, were in compliance with the strict security measures with the aim to protect port workers from the risk of infection.

Cargo flows are transported both by sea and by road, i.e. by trucks and rail wagons - 28 000 road transport units and 8 800 railway wagon units have been used for reception and delivery of cargo at the Port of Riga since March 13.

The Freeport of Riga is the largest port in Latvia, handling 99% of Latvian sea container shipments and one third (33%) of all Baltic containerized cargo.

Three terminals in the port of Riga handle sea containers, and three more companies offer container cargo storage and logistics services. Regular container transportation to and from the port of Riga is provided by 7 container shipping lines, all of which currently continue their operation.