The ports of Szczecin-Swinoujscie written off?
The recent decisions of Donald Tusk’s government were exceptionally unprofitable for the ports of Szczecin-Swinoujscie and consequently, for these cities and the entire region. The series of bad news flowing from Warsaw gives no chances for development in the near future and strikes the foundations of this main, besides Gdansk and Gdynia, centre of the Polish maritime economy. Therefore, the farthest west Polish agglomeration loses its significance and becomes the background for Berlin, slowly but systematically losing its connections with the centre of Poland.
The development of the ports is blocked
It began with the liquidation of the shipyard in Szczecin. Over 2,000 people lost jobs. And the construction of ships is a complicated process. It requires many equipments and elements. Additional services are needed, too. The fall of the shipyard meant an additional liquidation of several thousand work places in the co-operating factories. A considerable part of them was located in the neighbourhood. The extra bitter pill was the training programme for those who lost their jobs. Within the framework of this operation ca. 680 shipyard workers attended a forklift driving course but none of them found jobs as such drivers and the costs of the training were covered by the state budget.
Then the situation did not improve at all. Towards the end of last year we learnt that the Northern Pipeline across the bottom of the Baltic Sea, from Russia to Germany, would block the development of the ports. In December 2010, Prime Minister Tusk talked to Chancellor Angela Merkel about the possibility of putting the pipeline across the sea bottom only on the distance of 5 km. But she did not agree even to that. The Germans answered that when the port in Swinoujscie was modernised and could accept larger ships they would start negotiations again. But it is an excuse. It is known that it is much harder to dig in a pipe through which gas is transmitted. And without such guarantees it is not rational to rebuild the port.
This situation threatens the profitability of the planned gas pipeline. Within the diversification of gas supplies the Polish government decided to build a liquefied natural gas terminal in Swinoujscie. This gas will be delivered by sea in special gas carriers. The gas terminal would receive 5-7.5 billion m3 of gas per year. The larger gas carriers, the smaller costs of each transport, which influences the price of gas to a considerable extent. After the Northern Pipeline is built the port in Swinoujscie can only take ships with a draft of 13.5 m. But the terminal was planned to take ships with a draft of 14.5 m. It is a small difference but very essential. Since it eliminates the possibility of using large vessels, both trade and gas carriers.
The port in the neighbouring city of Rostock, which has no such limits, will take advantage of that. Additionally, it has a much better cargo infrastructure.
Abandoning the plan to enlarge port infrastructure
The bad conditions of the transport system in Poland are commonly known. The shipping companies choose ports considering their access to land. Since the infrastructure system must operate on land-sea cargo and sometimes it takes hundreds of kilometres before the goods reach clients. The last decisions of the government, which do not concern single units but many elements, show as if we were to deal with a conscious action leading to lower the competitiveness of the ports in Szczecin and Swinoujscie.
Their advantage was the possibility to use barges floating down the Oder River to Upper Silesia. Last year a serious accident happened. On the river segment from Kedzierzyn-Kozle to Wroclaw the Polish state could not re-open the navigation after the spring thaws and flooding. After many months as well as requests and threats the owners of the barges financed the repairs of the fundamental equipments and deepening the riverbed. It was an unprecedented event: businessmen fulfilled the obligations of the state. This story had a happy end but had consequences as well. The losses of those small companies were huge and many owners intend to close their businesses. Since the situation may occur again. That’s why the water system of the Oder River is neglected slowly but systematically.
As regards the roads two key investments were given up. The first one is the construction of a tunnel connecting Swinoujscie and the Isle of Wolin and the land. Currently there is a ferry there but it is old and scares investors and tourists off. The government of Jaroslaw Kaczynski decided to build the tunnel. The project was almost completed but the new government gave it up, postponing it until 2013, without giving any date of its realisation.
The same happened with the construction of the express road S3 from Szczecin to Gorzow Wielkopolski, Zielona Gora, Wroclaw and farther with the Czech Republic and the rest of the continent. Unfortunately, the new plan for road construction prepared by the coalition of the Civic Platform and the Polish Peasants’ Party includes only the road to Gorzow and postponing the construction of the other roads to some undefined future.
During the communist system Czechoslovakia had its own trade fleet. Without access to the sea it used the Polish ports, especially Szczecin-Swinoujscie. Now companies from southern Europe use the German ports more and more frequently because of the system of motorways and trains.
Germans are doing their own things
On 12 December 2010 the German state railways used the possibility of the opened Polish market and started their first rail connection from Szczecin to Prague via Berlin and Dresden. It takes ca. 7 hours to get from Szczecin to Prague. One can take a train from Szczecin to Prague through Poland. The problem is that despite the shorter route it takes ca. 11 hours and one needs to change trains twice. The facts speak for themselves. The effects of such activities will be irreversible in a longer perspective.