By Atom Markarian
An alternative ferry line launched a year ago to connect the Georgian seaport of Poti with Russian Port-Kavkaz is idling today, with shipping companies claiming it is unstable and too expensive to become a real gateway for Armenian exports.
Meanwhile, when it opened in March 2005, it was hoped to become the main route for shipments of cargoes from Armenia to Russia and back as a shorter and cost-effective alternative to the existing ferry line from Ukraine’s port of Ilyichevsk to Batumi in Georgia.
The illusion disappeared after the ferry under the Russian flag with a capacity of transporting 24 carriages of load, stopped plying having made two shipments.
The Russian side explained the half of operations by the absence of cargoes in required amount, which they said made the operation of the ferry economically unjustified.
Armenian businessmen do not agree with it. In particular, Gagik Aghajanian, executive director of one of the largest shipping companies of Armenia, Apaven, says the statement by the Russians does not correspond to the facts. “If the amount of Russian shipments by ferry from Ilyichevsk to Poti operated by five ferries arrived at Port-Kavkaz and is directly shipped to Poti, this ferry will simply be unable to ship that amount of cargo,” he told RFE/RL.
Aghajanian believes that no serious company, especially in the shipping business, will direct cargoes by train to those ports without the confidence that this ferry will work stably.
“We say we must see the ferry to direct our cargoes in that direction,” he said.
Meanwhile, Aghajanian says, still during the visit of Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin to Armenia before the launch of the ferry line, the Armenian side demanded real guarantees of its uninterrupted work, but no such guarantees were given then. This circumstance appears to be conditioned by the current tense relations between Russia and Ukrainian, which also affect Armenian businessmen today.
Many businessmen in Armenia say they do not use the new ferry line also because its shipment tariffs are artificially set too high, which makes shipments unprofitable. Simultaneously, the Ukrainian ferry operator also keeps increasing transportation tariffs. Aghajanian says that during the last seven years the tariff for shipping one carriage of cargo from the Ukrainian seaport of Ilyichevsk to Batumi rose from $900 to $2,000.
The unstable situation with the Poti-Port Kavkaz ferry even more intensified the talks about the construction of an Iran-Armenia railroad. Yet, Aghajanian does not consider this project to be realistic.
“This matter has been discussed for a long time, but unfortunately it does not go beyond discussion. I don’t think Armenia has corresponding funds to build such a railroad at present,” he told RFE/RL.