First day of the Baltic Ports Conference 2023 concludes in Ystad

Sep 07 2023

First day of the Baltic Ports Conference 2023 concludes in Ystad

Over 100 participants gathered for the first day of the annual Baltic Ports Conference. This year’s event, hosted by the Port of Ystad, took us to – you guessed it – the wonderful city of Ystad, Sweden, where the discussions focused mainly on what is necessary for the Baltic ports sector to remain proactive and resilient in times characterized by a wide range of challenges.

The welcoming speeches made it clear – mutual support and cooperation are the key to success. For ports, not only in the Baltic Sea Region (BSR), to play a pivotal role in Europe’s future, the sector must embrace the spirit of sharing. Be it knowledge, best practices, ideas or experiences, both good and bad, exchanging these will build the foundation of a strong and resilient maritime community, and by extension, Europe.

And challenges to tackle are indeed many and linked to the main macroeconomic trends that will shape trade in Europe in the near future, as outlined in the presentation by Inda Vonck (Deloitte). These include the increasing requirements of resilient and green operations and investments, coupled with growing levels of government intervention, rising inflation and the subsequent rate hikes, as well as the end or pause of the globalization process. The investments required to overcome these hurdles, i.e., investments needed to boost the wider maritime industry’s resilience and greening efforts, amount to trillions of euros. Joint public private funding is necessary to meet these, additionally increasing the public sway in the decision making.

Many of these points echoed throughout the subsequent discussion panel, featuring representatives from ESPO and CLECAT. If the EU expects the port sector to play a significant role in its push towards increased resilience and combating climate change, significant funding and support from the side of policymakers will be mandatory.

Adapting to change

Resilience and competitive potential were further discussed in a segment joined by panelists from FEPORT, CBSS and CINEA. The industry needs to adapt to a reality of a permanent crisis, with seemingly each day leaving a new challenge at its doorstep. Crisis multi-tasking may be the key to survival in this new landscape, an approach characterized by agile planning supported by shared knowledge and willingness to cooperate – a callback to some of the opening words of this year’s conference. Planning under awareness of uncertainty together with an emphasis on efficiency, those who can master it will be the big winners.

Other drivers governing the development of the port sector were also touched upon in a presentation by Bogdan Ołdakowski (Baltic Ports Organization), who glimpsed into the future and tried to divine where the Baltic port sector might find itself in the next ten years. Those mentioned included, but were not limited to, the rising protectionist sentiments, the ever-increasing need for technological innovation and the choice and implementation of the most efficient solutions, demographic aspects (e.g., the aging workforce), as well as near- and friend-shoring.

That last point made appearances on additional occasions during today’s sessions, and was then further elaborated upon by representatives from the Ports of Helsinki, Klaipeda and Tallinn. One of the facets linked to the process at hand, important to keep in mind and emphasized during this port roundtable, was the associated increase in capacity requirements within Europe. Should the trend continue, and it very well might, it will be key to stay ahead of it.

So, about the ro-ro and ferry market…

In terms of intra-Baltic connections, there are 60 on the ferry side, operated by 19 operators, and 35 on the ro-ro side, operated by 14 operators, according to Ewelina Ziajka (Actia Forum). That’s a key market for the BSR and one that is also very sensitive to geopolitical and economic shifts, drivers that were very present in panels and presentations of today’s conference. And the market is growing at a brisk pace. From 2022 to 2026, according to the current orderbook, 18 ships with a total load line of 81,590 m will enter the Baltic. In 2022, 12 new ships entered the Baltic, with a total passenger capacity of 10,000 passengers. 6 more are set to follow in 2023-2026. More capacity on the market may create more competition and pose a risk of a potential price war.

The growth in vessel size was also the subject of discussion between the representatives of the Ports of Karlshamn and Rostock. Bigger vessels on the way mean that the port sector needs to prepare. The challenge lies not only in the ability to offer the necessary infrastructure but also sufficient handling times. As always, sufficient financial support will be critical. Oftentimes the cooperation that matters most is the one you have with the bank.

An example of a port that made great strides in expanding its ro-ro ferry services over the last couple of years is the Port of Liepaja. The number of transshipped tonnes rose by well over 60% between 2020 and 2022. Key to success? Playing to one’s strengths and willingness to invest even when times are difficult. Despite the harsh climate everyone is dealing with, increasing the supply chain efficiency can have the beneficial effect of lowering costs and, by extension, inflation.

On the tech side of things…

Since technology and innovation were some of the solutions to challenges debated throughout the day, it was only appropriate to lend a voice to those working on them. Jon Lane (RightShip), whose company’s goal is a zero-harm maritime industry, showed the audience how data and digital tools can be utilized to reduce in-ports vessel emissions and prepare for a carbon neutral 2050. Concentrating on data transparency and quality can make it easier to navigate the complex regulatory environment, in the end – if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

The tech side of things was further augmented by Sandra Jansson and Dan Steinnes (Grieg Connect) telling the participants how to go from port call planning to optimization of internal and external resources. Steps necessary to achieve it included, among others, the mapping of manual steps and resource consuming activities, implementation of planning, execution and reporting tools and collaborating with others withing your port system.

The conference returns tomorrow with topics revolving around the impact of climate change on port development.


The Organizers would like to thank the sponsors – GISGRO, Grieg Connect, Marinfloc, RightShip and Wabtec – for making the event a possibility!