Reprinted with Permission
Anaklia, Georgia (PortSEurope) January 3, 2021 – Anaklia Deep Sea Port project did not have a chance fighting for its survival against Georgia’s political class, heavily influenced by Moscow, which did not want a facility capable of hosting U.S. and NATO military ships, or a competitor to its own Black Sea cargo ports.
Anaklia project also had to face with a domestic competitor – the port of Poti, with its far more realistic and less expensive expansion ambitions. Poti is controlled by Danish logistics giant Maersk.
In January 2020, the new Anaklia port project was cancelled by Georgia’s government, and Russia won the protracted game around the idea for a new Anaklia port – the first deep-water port on the eastern shore of the Black Sea.
The project descended into chaos, fuelled by inefficient government, bureaucracy and corruption in Georgia, lack of attention from the U.S. and the European Union (EU), and above all, a successful attempt by Moscow to interfere in Georgia’s internal affairs.
Anaklia Development Consortium
Anaklia Development Consortium (ADC) won the state tender to construct the Anaklia Deep Sea Port and signed a deal with the government in 2016. ADC today consists of TBC Holding from Georgia; SSA Marine from the United States; UK-registered Wondernet Express, most probably owned by businessmen from Central Asia, and G-Star Ltd. from Bulgaria.
Last year Conti International (U.S.) left ADC having owned 42% of the shares in the consortium. SSA (old name Stevedoring Services of America) does not have any investments in Europe in its 70-year history. Bulgaria’s registered G-Star Ltd. has Georgian owners and seems to operate as an offshore investment vehicle with no activities in Bulgaria.
In July 2020, the ADC and Bob Meijer, one of its principal investors, filed separate arbitration claims against Georgia in relation to their rights in the Anaklia Port Project. Noting that their claims seek to recover the value of ADC’s and Meijer’s rights in the project, the two said that the value of those rights is substantial, “in excess of $1 billion, representing ADC’s and Meijer’s losses directly resulting from the Georgian Government’s campaign to undermine the Anaklia Port Project”.
ADC lambasted the Georgia’s government and said that the ruling Georgian Dream party “undertook an overt and covert campaign to ensure that the (Anaklia Deep Sea Port) project could never succeed”.
In December 2020, Georgia’s Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, Natia Turnava, said that the government needs to update economic feasibility study for the Anaklia Deep Sea Port before retendering the project to new investors: “We continue to work on Anaklia project, for which we plan to update the feasibility study with international financial institutions and partners, which is a prerequisite for finding investors”.
But already in October 2020, ADC said: In the proposed 2021 State Budget, the Georgian Government admits that a new port tender is unlikely to succeed. This is because no credible investor is likely to participate in circumstances where arbitration claims are ongoing about the Government’s treatment of ADC and international investor Bob Meijer.
Hidden on pages 517-518 of the proposed budget is the following passage regarding the intended new tender for an Anaklia Port Project: “Potential risks – as it currently stands, due to the potential arbitration dispute, an investor of high reputation and experience may not be selected”.
It is instructive to read three statements by the ADC from September 2020:
In January 2019, SSA Marine, which was selected as the Anaklia Port operator and was a potential investor, alerted ADC of its concerns about what seemed to be the Government’s support of an expansion of the Poti Port.
Following detailed studies sponsored by the Government back in 2013-14, it had been determined that Poti Port could never meet Georgia’s needs for a deep water port, which is why the government itself selected Anaklia for development at that time. The Government’s subsequent expressions of support for expansion at Poti was a clear signal to the lending and investment community that the Government was no longer supportive of Anaklia.
In February 2019, a sovereign European development bank advised ADC that it had decided against supporting the project because of the negative actions of the Georgian Government, and the possible shift of support to the Poti Port. Another sovereign European development bank advised ADC that it was withdrawing its support because one of its counterparts had just done so due to the state’s apparent shift of support from Anaklia to Poti.
In 2019, Georgia’s government extended the deadline for Anaklia Development Consortium (ADC) for submitting financial closer documents – for the sixth time by six months – until end-2019, so the government and four donor banks – European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) – could agree on how the state can be the guarantor for the insurance of freight turnover of the future deep sea port.
But it was clear that the government in Tbilisi did not want to take the responsibility for the commercial risks.
Poti port as an alternative to Anaklia
Prior to the cancellation of the Anaklia project, the government issued permission for the enlargement and further development of two other Georgian ports – Poti and Batumi. Although these ports are not deep-water facilities and cannot accommodate Panamax-type large vessels, they challenge the very concept for building the port in Anaklia.
Poti is controlled by the Maersk’s APM Terminals which already in 2011 said that it wants to develop a deep seaport. Poti, only 35 kilometres south from Anaklia, is currently the largest seaport in Georgia, able to handle 6.5 million tonnes of cargo per year. Its capacity has never been utilised. It presently handles over 85% of the country’s container traffic.
The Anaklia project should have a strategic importance for Georgia’s economy and the country’s status as a trade hub between Europe and Asia. Georgian ports currently have the capacity to receive approximately 25% of the world trading fleet, as Poti, the biggest port in the country has depth of only 9 metres.
Anaklia (20.5 metres deep when finished) will allow Georgia to service cargo ships with capacity of 1,400 tons and more. Another benefit of the port could be enhanced interaction between Georgian and Abkhaz communities as the town is next to the Inguri line that divides Georgia and Abkhazia.
The new port is designed to handle 100 million tonnes of cargo per year after five decades, an unrealistically huge amount considering that the four Georgian ports – Batumi, Poti, Kulevi, and Supsa – handled together less than 10 million tonnes in 2018! The 100 million tonnes might well be only a theoretical capacity, while more realistic but still huge figure is 20 million tonnes.
The hope is that Anaklia will attract cargo mainly from China, but it can also be used to provide transhipments for U.S. military to Afghanistan.
Since the launch of the project in 2016, five million m³ of sand has been dredged up from the seabed, and a private investment of $70 million ($62.48 million) has been made. Maritime construction started at Anaklia port in the second half of 2018. The Dutch maritime contractor Van Oord NV was carrying out dredging and reclamation work.
Anaklia Deep Sea Port is to be constructed in an extravagant nine phases, the last one to be completed in the very distant 2069, when the port will have depth of 20.5 metres, 32 berths and a free trade and industrial zone of 600 hectares.
The port, when finished, will be able to accommodate 10,000 TEU ships, the largest that can pass through the Bosporus – the gateway to Black Sea. Existing Georgian ports can handle ships that are up to just 1,000 TEU.
The project was set to receive for the second stage of its construction EU financing of about €233 million ($266 million) as one of the major infrastructure projects in the EU Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries.
In addition, the EU was also intending to provide €100 million ($114 million) for the construction of a new railroad that will connect Anaklia to the railroad network of Georgia. Anaklia also needs improved highway connections with the rest of Georgia.
The inauguration of the 16-metre-deep port of Anaklia with two container berths and one for bulk goods like fertiliser (stage one of the project development), was planned for 2021, and was expected to re-open the region to international shipping. With 75% of Black Sea vessels having nowhere to dock on the eastern shores, overland trade is only accessible by truck, or through Russia.
Anaklia would offer multimodal access to Central Asia and the Middle East, all the way to India and China. In 2016, then Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili said that the port would be able to receive ships of any size and keep pace with the growing dynamic of freight transit.
Russia does not want a competitor for its Novorossiysk port, the nearest Black Sea deep-water port, luring west-bound Asian cargo that currently transits via Russia. Moscow also has other political and territorial issues with Georgia.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, ethnic Abkhaz in Georgia with Russian military support fought a war against the Georgian government in 1992-93. In August 2008, Russia recognised the territory as independent – all major countries consider it part of Georgia. Also, in 2008, Russia occupied Georgia’s South Ossetia.
Moscow also rejects the idea that a future Anaklia deep sea port could welcome large U.S. Navy ships and offer them a base on the eastern shores of Black Sea which Russia considers one of its prime spheres of interest. Georgia is also a country aspiring to join NATO.
After the fiasco with ADC, China might try to take over the Anaklia deep-water port. It was speculated earlier that China may have been behind the pressure on Tbilisi to oust the Georgian-American developers, replacing them with Chinese state-owned companies. This would allow China to add a jewel in the crown of its new Silk Road project and receive a strategic foothold in the Black Sea.
The new Silk Road (part of the Belt and Road initiative also known as One Belt, One Road, or OBOR) is a Chinese economic strategy to seek better access for Chinese-made products in European markets, which includes acquiring stakes in ports and other transport facilities, and cooperation agreements with countries along the Silk Road routes.
In 2015, practically all experts believed that the bid for constructing Anaklia port by two Chinese companies – Power China–Hubei Hongyuan Power Engineering Company and China Harbour Engineering Company (the latter dropped out of the tender) – with the Chinese government’s backing, was actually the most viable.
China was considered the preferred partner because the construction of the port in Anaklia would explicitly be part of Beijing’s new Silk Road trans-Eurasian transit development policy.
Currently there are three land corridors between China and Europe: a southern route, via Iran, made impractical by American sanctions; a middle path, via the Caspian Sea and then across Georgia to the Black Sea, made impractical by the lack of modern deep-sea Georgian ports; a northern route, via Russia, on which most east-west land trade currently flows. Anaklia proposes to change that by giving the middle corridor the deep-sea port it lacks and removing the bottleneck.
Investments in Poti seaport
In October 2020, APM Terminals Poti (APMT) and Poti New Terminals Corporation (PNTC) have signed an agreement for the joint development of a new bulk cargo facility on the northern side of the Poti Sea Port.
APMT will construct a new breakwater, 400 metres of quay wall and dredging up to 13.5 meters vessel draft. PNTC will invest in the construction of a new dry and bulk cargo facility including extensive yard area and rail connection in Poti.
Keld Mosgaard Christensen, Managing Director of APM Terminals Poti, said then: “It is an important milestone towards reaching our ambition to develop the best-in-class logistics solution in Poti Sea Port which entails a modern dry bulk cargo facility capable to accommodate Panamax vessels and handle various cargo types on 25 hectares of the customized area. This infrastructure will make the supply chain more efficient and effective for local and regional cargo owners”.
The new facility will be built during the first phase of the project and will generate additional capacity of approximately 10 million tonnes for bulk cargo, providing deep-water draft, enabling faster vessel turnaround, reliable and efficient services while giving rise to economies of scale.
“With an unprecedentedly substantial investment over the coming years during Phase 1 and Phase 2 in developing a new deep-water port in Poti, APM Terminals is clearly demonstrating our confidence in the sustainable future of the Georgian logistics corridor, and the continuous growth of national and regional economies that will stimulate businesses,” added Christensen.
“This will, in turn, benefit the local community by sparking significant economic development, catalysing new commercial activities and enabling hundreds of direct and indirect employment opportunities. The significance and positive impact of this strategic project gives us confidence for the success of this initiative, achieved by effective cooperation and coordination among multiple stakeholders, especially the Government of Georgia, whose vital support to this process is highly appreciated”.
The Poti Sea Port is the largest port in Georgia, handling liquids, dry bulk, passenger ferries and 85% of Georgia’s container traffic. The multi-purpose facility has 15 berths, a total quay length of 2,900 meters, more than 20 quay cranes and 17 km of rail track.
The port serves as a European gateway for international trade in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, and is ideally located to become a hub for Central Asia trade. It offers direct ferry traffic with the Black Sea ports of Ukraine, Russia and Bulgaria and is connected to the nation’s railway network, with connection to all key cities in Georgia.
APM Terminals Poti’s parent company APM Terminals operates global port and integrated inland service networks.
Georgia has four Black Sea ports: Poti (controlled by Danish logistics giant Maersk; used for containers and dry cargo), Batumi (controlled by Kazakhstan state-owned KazTransOil; used mostly for oil, but also for dry cargo and containers), Kulevi (controlled by Azerbaijani state-owned oil and gas company SOCAR) and Supsa (operated by the British oil major BP) – both used for oil export.
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