Drone attacks on the Danube estuary ports in late August broadened Russian attempts to prevent Ukraine from exporting grain, but other rising risks to regional maritime safety are also calling for special attention from P&I, according to Nick Taylor, Head of Coastal & Inland, NorthStandard.
raffic has been growing fast along the Danube in 2023, and collisions, sinkings and groundings have also become increasingly frequent. The resulting claims have been complicated by owner unfamiliarity with regional conditions and cultures, and a local code of silence following ‘hit and run’ incidents.
Even before Russia quit the U.N.-brokered deal allowing Kyiv to ship its grain via the Black Sea, traffic passing through Ukraine Danube ports was accounting for around a quarter of the nation’s grain exports, says Nick Taylor, Head of Coastal & Inland, NorthStandard.
Ukraine transhipped 8.1 million tonnes of grain through the port of Constanta in the first seven months of 2023 – over 40% of all grains handled by a port which already deals with exports from Romania itself, Hungary and Serbia
… said Nick Taylor and added that in May alone, grain volumes through Danube ports hit 2.2 million tonnes, overtaking exports made via the Black Sea corridor.
With the Danube route now the principle exit option for Ukrainian grain, Russian firepower will doubtless have a say in the handling capabilities at the Ukraine ports of Reni and Izmail – close to the Romanian border. However, recent Government projections still foresee Danube exports reaching at least 20 million tonnes in 2023 – three times pre-war volumes, according to Nick Taylor.
The routing switch and the consequent redeployment by North European owners of inland and coastal vessels to handle the new trade have created new challenges for operational safety along the Danube, according to Nick Taylor.
Nick Taylor noted that where risk is concerned the conflict itself dominates day to day reporting, but the course of events has also caused major vessel congestion. The vessels coming into the market are maintained to the highest standards, but their crews may have little or no experience of working on these waters. In one example, a vessel in convoy came out of the bend in heavy weather on the wrong side of the river, causing a collision.
With the port infrastructure under strain, there can also be disconnects between international operators and local authorities when incidents or accidents occur. Part of that is about lack of previous contact and different cultures when it comes to getting things done, but there have also been incidents where vessels have been hit, yet nobody seems to have seen anything, Nick Taylor noted.
In the immediate term, however, where trade needs to be supported on heavily congested routes, Members operating in unfamiliar waters, different shipping cultures apply and crews feel understandable edginess, there are plenty of opportunities to showcase P&I services at their best.
… concluded Nick Taylor