To the crowds of visitors who flock to the beautiful city of Gdańsk, thoughts of the city as a major trading port and international gateway to Poland are probably far from mind, as they marvel at the Gothic and Renaissance architecture on the main street that runs through the heart of the city, or who explore the cafés and bars along the waterfront of the Motława River, however, they don’t have to look too far to see the evidence of the port’s history.
The Gdańsk Crane – arguably one of the most iconic sights in the city – is on most visitors’ sight-seeing itinerary. The fact that this wooden structure was the largest the largest port crane in Medieval Europe is a good indication of Gdańsk’s significance as an international trading centre. Ships from all over the world used to arrive in Gdańsk via the Motława River, and would moor in what is known to day as the Old Town, where they would then get set up for traveling onwards through Poland, to Kraków via the Vistula River. During the golden age of the Hanseatic League, Gdańsk enjoyed excellent relations with other ports along the Baltic coast, including Klaipėda in Lithuania and Riga, as well as with countries such as Hungary and Moldova, which exported their products northwards and westwards. War and changes in the political landscape in the second half of the 18th century prompted the decline in Gdańsk’s significance as a port. One hundred years later, it was functioning as a German port.
Technologies in shipping have of course changed since those days, and the Port of Gdańsk is now an expansive network of deepwater container terminals which plays a crucial role Trans-European transportation, connecting the Nordic countries with Southern and Eastern Europe. This transformation was however not without some degree of risk. Congestion in the road and rail systems of Europe presented problems in transporting cargo to and from the port, and there was a desperate need for substantial roads and motorways. The Port of Gdańsk is in the knot of what is known in the shipping industry as ‘Pan-European Transport Corridor VI’ which is one of the most significant in Europe – this enabled the construction of the A1 motorway – nicknamed the ‘Amber Motorway’ to be prioritised. This was followed by improvements in Gdańsk’s rail network and the opening of a 200 hectare logistics centre. This gave the Port of Gdańsk the infrastructure to support increased trade through its terminals.
An excellent location and improvements to the infrastructure are all well and good, however it was the decision to add deepwater container terminals that really put the Port of Gdańsk on the map – this would eliminate the need for tug-boats, which add time and expense to the loading and unloading process. Ever since its launch, just over a year ago, the network of terminals, known as DCT Gdańsk SA, is gaining recognition within the shipping industry for its capacity and efficiency. International logistics group Maersk has selected the port as the principal port for its vessels since December 2008, giving ground to plans to expand the ports capabilities over the next couple of years.
What makes a port attractive to a shipping company? Ultimately, the port’s ability to load and unload cargo efficiently and cost-effectively is one of the most important factors, though a port’s capability to receive larger ships, its connections to the infrastructure on dry land and its safety records are also very important. The Port of Gdańsk is constantly analysing these factors at the same time as monitoring activity at other Baltic ports. It then adjusts its strategy in order maintain its position as one of the key ports on the Baltic coast – after all, if a port is losing clients, it will be losing them to another port on the same coastline.
In May 2009, the Port of Gdańsk welcomed representatives of the European Commission. The delegation was led by Luis Valente de Oliveira, the European Coordinator of ‘Motorways of the Sea’ an initiative that encourages the use of combined maritime and rail transportation as a sustainable and economically efficient alternative to road transport. The purpose of the delegation was to consider the port’s future as a strategic hub on the transshipment routes between Europe and Asia, as congestion in many European ports intensifies as a result of increased traffic from countries such as China and Asia. Alternative ports to be sourced, and Gdańsk – along with Stockholm and Copenhagen-Malmö – is considered as a strong contender to take on the excess freight that would traditionally have gone via South-Eastern Europe.
While the Port of Gdańsk’s ability to combine maritime transportation with an excellent rail and road infrastructure is crucial to its development, one should not overlook the capabilities of the port itself. The latest technological systems have been incorporated into the construction of the port’s cargo terminals and in the development of the logistics centres. For instance, the transportation of empty containers has been completely eliminated – just one of many factors that make the Port of Gdańsk attractive to shipping companies and investors.
For the first time in its thousand year history, the Port of Gdańsk is in a strong position to strengthen its connections within the Baltic corridor – not only as a distribution centre, but as a key link to the ‘Pan-European Transport Corridor VI’, which connects Scandinavia with the countries of South-Eastern Europe. Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004 brought further opportunities, as EU funds have enabled the expansion and modernisation of the port’s infrastructure and improved its communications with national and international transportation networks. This simultaneously has a positive impact on other industries, and contributed to the overall growth and development in the region.
As trade barriers have become more relaxed in recent years, the Port of Gdańsk has taken on the role of maritime gateway for land-locked countries in Central Europe, including Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. The port’s global reach extends much further than Europe however, as it sets its sights on developing relations with the Chinese market. In March 2008, the Port of Gdańsk launched the Chinese language version of its website, a sign that it has its finger on the pulse of global economic trends, and that it understood the significance of countries in Asia Pacific. Beyond merely publishing a Chinese language version of the website, the Port of Gdańsk is actively engaging with the Chinese logistics market in a bid to attract traffic from the East.
In March 2009, the Port of Gdańsk signed an agreement of mutual co-operation with the Shanghai Municipal Transport and Port Authority, the aim of which will focus on building a development and port management strategy, fostering a technological and commercial exchange, promoting maritime transport, improving turnover capacity and efficiency and also developing a competitive edge. It is also expected that the cooperation will involve investment projects as well as expanding shipping services. The Port of Gdańsk is certainly set to benefit from this co-operation, as almost 90% of freight imported from China is transported by sea due to the long distance from Europe. The larger the vessel, the more economical the transportation on a 60 day voyage – and the Port of Gdańsk is well-equipped to handle the some of the world’s largest ships. In fact, when it comes to trade with China, Gdańsk is ranked 8th among EU ports based on their ability to load and unload Chinese ships efficiently and using the latest technologies. Of the recent members of the EU, it takes the top position. It is anticipated that the strong ties forged through shipping will have wide-reaching benefits on other aspects of Sino-Polish relations.
Initiatives that promote its growth and development are without a doubt helping to put the Port of Gdańsk on the map as one of the world’s leading transportation hubs. It is a member of the Baltic Ports Organisation (BPO) a body that united 42 world-class ports in 9 Baltic countries, many of which have seen considerable political changes in recent years that will have had an impact on trading conditions, including the abolishment of the Soviet Union and the expansion of the EU. Developments such as these have put the spotlight on the Baltic sea, and consequently the BPO found itself entering a new and exciting era – one that will undoubtedly see the Port of Gdańsk
The Port of Gdańsk: Facts and Figures
Total Land Area: 653 Hectares
Total Water Area: 412.56 Hectares
Total Length of Quays: 21.2 km
Warehousing Area: 106,300 m²
Open Store Area: 548,000 m²
Cargo Handling Capacity (Inner Port): 11.5 million tons
Cargo Handling Capacity (Northern Port): 48.5 million tons
Work 24 Hours a day in three shifts
Ice-free all year long
For further information on the Port of Gdańsk, visit www.portgdansk.pl