Recovery of Russian container volumes

Vladivostok Sea Commercial Port. Source:

The container throughput of Russian ports has grown by 1.4% in 2016, up to 3.99 mln TEU, reported the Association of Russian sea commercial ports. This is seen as a promising recovery after the last year’s fall by 25,4%.

It may be reminded that the major drop in 2015 happened in imports (-28.5%), due to the devaluated ruble and the economic sanctions declared by the Russian government which hit primarily the foodstuffs, consumer goods and auto spare parts imported from the European Union, the United States, Canada and Japan. In 2016 import volumes slightly recovered: +2.1%, 1.67 mln TEU. However, this growth may be attributed not only to larger volumes of imported cargo thanks to stabilized local currency, but also to a certain part of empties brought in to load exported materials. Thus, the Baltic ports alone handled 60,000 empty import TEUs that recorded a 55.5% increase in this type of containers.

Export volumes practically remain unchanged: 1.64 mln TEU, -0.6%. But here again, it must be noted that this figure hides loaded export volumes increasing year by year (due to a stable growth in exported containerized paper, chemicals, mineral fertilizers, metal and wood products) masked by a decline in handling exported empty boxes. Historically, Russian ports have been evacuating empties after the imported cargo. For instance, in 2013 export volumes included 1.54 mln TEU of empties and only 0.77 mln TEU of full containers. But growing export and weak import of the recent years have reversed the picture and in 2015 export volumes were made up of 0.93 mln TEU of full containers and just 0.72 mln TEU of empties. Year 2016 recorded a further 17.4% drop in exported empty boxes.

Besides, the growth of +8.5% is noted in cabotage, up to 0.64 mln TEU. These volumes include coastal shipments to northern territories in the Far East and Arctic. The importance of the Northern Sea Route declared by the Russian government and growth of cargo transits along it (2016 saw the record of around 7 mln tons) draw constant attention to the development of the Arctic ports infrastructure. The new LNG port of Sabetta under construction on the Yamal Peninsula above the Arctic Circle, development of the existing ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, reconstruction of Naryan Mar port and construction of new transhipment facilities in the Bay of Indiga are on the list of the country’s ambitious projects. The region is developing and container ports of the Arctic basin cannot be ignored. In 2016 they have registered a 10.8% increase in their volumes, although to a modest 0.15 mln TEU.

The largest Russian container port basin is, by all means, the Baltic. In 2016 its total throughput was 2.02 mln TEU (+1.81%), with the port of Saint Petersburg posting 1.75% growth, up to 1.75 mln TEU, although this is by 26.5% less than the port’s volume in 2014 (2.38 mln TEU). The Ust-Luga port still cannot win back its volumes after last year’s 15.9% fall: 0.08 mln TEU, -6.55%.

The second largest container port basin in Russia is the Far Eastern, with the total throughput of 1.19 mln TEU. However, container ports here are still struggling to win back their volumes. After a collapse of 24.2% last year, in 2016 their handing is still down by 2.06%. The main reasons are low import and transit volumes.

The Black Sea ports handled 0.63 mln TEU which is 4.04% more than last year. The growth was recorded both in imports (+2.75%) and in exports (+5.47%).

The largest Russian container ports in 2016

Throughput, TEU
St.Petersburg1 715 1391 745 1821,75%
Vladivostok619 400642 5203,73%
Novorossiysk583 600613 4105,11%
Vostochny353 200301 300 (estimate)-14,69%
Kaliningrad179 380189 1805,46%
Ust-Luga89 82083 934-6,55%

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