Seven feet under keel

Can Belarus become a seafaring state?

By Anatoly Romanov

Globalisation has led to many countries without sea access forming their own merchant navy and Belarus is keen to join them. We are now expanding our export geography, striving to acquire cargo vessels. How is this being realised and what benefits could it bring?


From the river to the sea
Belarusian vessels are now operational exclusively on domestic rivers, lakes and canals, with about 700 passenger and cargo ships using approximately 2,000km of waterways (along the Dnieper, Pripyat, Berezina, Zapadnaya Dvina, Sozh and Nieman rivers and the Dnieper-and-Bug Canal). However, those keen on sailing cannot help but yearn for the sea. Surely, the country needs access to the sea. Belarus already makes good use of Black and Baltic Sea ports to export goods and resources, leasing foreign vessels. Having our own fleet is the logical next step.


‘Double’ effect
Creating Belarus’ merchant navy is to begin with the purchase of two vessels, boasting a capacity of 35,000 tonnes each. They need to be no older than ten years and designed to carry dry cargo. About $30m is needed for the purchase, as presented at the Belarusian Investment Forum in Frankfurt-am-Main. According to Belarusian specialists, the venture would pay for itself within 8-10 years, with annual profits reaching about $4m.
The Belarusian authorities are ready to offer tax privileges and similar incentives to investors, while guaranteeing the two ships access to domestic export-oriented products.


Cargo available, while fleet next in line
Experts say that sea transport accounts for 70-80 percent of all international cargo shipment, since it has a relatively low prime cost, with large cargo capacity and the ability to travel long distances. With this in mind, Belarus transports its fertilisers to China, India and Brazil by sea, in addition to tractors and other machinery.  However, we lack our own ships to carry our exports. “This leads to dependence of our foreign trade on foreign vessel owners,” explains the Deputy Minister for Transport and Communications, Alexander Shishko.

Some time ago, Belarus joined seventeen international trade agreements in the field of sea shipment, while signing contracts on cargo transit and use of port infrastructure with Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia. Legislation has even been set up to govern a Belarusian merchant navy. “Sea vessels have no need to be attached to a permanent location. They can be used for cargo shipment anywhere in the world,” adds the official.

No problems are expected regarding finding crews, since the Transport and Communications Ministry has issued about 1,700 sailor certificates to Belarusian citizens to date (who are employed on foreign ships). Provision has already been made for experienced crew to man our own sea fleet.

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