2021 February 17
The pandemic, the ban on passenger transportation by inland water transport and extremely low water level made the year of 2020 tough for shipping on the Don river. Yet, navigation in the Azov-Don Basin was a success despite all the challenges.
In his interview with IAA PortNews, Sergey Gaidayev, head of the Azov-Don Basin Administration, tells about its performance in 2020 and about the progress in construction of the Bagayevsky hydrosystem.
— Mr. Gaidayev, could you, please share the results of the 2020 navigation season.
— In 2020, cargo traffic within the Azov-Don Basin of Russia’s IWW totaled 10.2 million tonnes accounting for 104.3% versus the year of 2019. I would like to emphasize, that transit cargo transportation in the reported period rose by 5.8% to 9 million tonnes.
The total number of calls within the basin grew by almost 16% to 7,058 units including 3,519 vessels proceeding downstream and 3,539 vessels proceeding upstream. Dry cargo ships and tankers accounted for 49.9% and 40.4% of the traffic accordingly with passenger ships and the towing fleet accounting for the rest of the traffic.
— Which types of cargo make the bulk of the cargo flows in the Azov-Don Basin? Are there any changes of traditional cargo flows?
— The key cargo flows in the basin are made by wheat (1.9 million tonnes), sulphur (1.6 million tonnes) and heavy fuel oil (1.3 million tonnes). The first two showed a growth versus the year of 2019. Transit of oil products totaled 4.2 million tonnes accounting for 43.1% of the total cargo volume.
In the segment of grain transportation within the Azov-Don Basin there were two new cargo flows registered for the first time over a decade: transit of oats from Samara, Balakovo and Oktyabrsk to Rostov-on-Don – 5,400 tonnes and transit of flour from Turkey to Azerbaijan – 2,700 tonnes.
— Did the pandemic affect the shipping in the Azov-Don Basin in 2020?
— The COVID-19 pandemic had no impact on the scope of cargo transportation or on cargo flows but it considerably affected transportation of passengers by inland water transport due to the restrictions. The ban on passenger transportation by inland water ways was in force from the beginning of the navigation season till July.
The first sightseeing and leisure boats were put into operation on Rostov-Starocherkasskaya-Rostov route only on July 4 with the first tourist ships to enter the Azov-Don Basin on July 13.
— Water level was among the challenges of 2020. What was water discharge from the Tsimlyanskoye water storage basin?
— The year of 2020 featured low inflow of water in spring. In the result, the navigation was held in the conditions of really low water level with the peak registered on April 4-7 (inflow of 552 cbm/s, or 21% of the norm). It is the lowest inflow over the entire period of the storage basin operation.
During the spring flood period, between February 21 and May 19, the inflow into the water storage basin was as high as 3.55 cbm, or 33% of the norm. Due to the low water of 2020 and the previous years, the level of the Tsimlyanskoye water storage basin, the key one on the Lower Don river, has not reached its design level of 36 m.
Throughout the year of 2020, maximum level of the Tsimlyanskoye water storage basin was registered between June 2 and June 7 – 33.5 meters. By the end of the navigation season, it dropped to 31.9 meters.
Water discharge regime is determined at the meeting of the interdepartmental working group. For the navigation season of 2020 it was set between 180 cbm/s and 250 cbm/s, considerably lower than the minimum of 340 cbm/s.
— Which are currently the most challenging parts for navigation?
— The most challenging part on the Lower Don river is the section between the Kochetkovsky hydrosystem and the Bagayevskaya with its wide and narrow parts following each other, numerous arms and streams making islands.
Besides, there are sharp bends limiting the visibility of the navigation pass. Many of them feature currents. There are about 13 sections of that kind. Moreover, strong winds aggravate the downsurge.
With its low water level, the year of 2020 added one more challenging part, between the Kochetkovsky hydrosystem including the Seversky Donets river from its mouth to the Ust-Donetsk port.
— In September 2020, RF President ordered to draft the national project aimed at the development of inland water transport and financial support of inland water ways. What, in your opinion, should be taken into consideration within the new national project?
— In my opinion, it should foresee activities aimed at enhancing throughput capacity of IWW as the bottlenecks reduce the efficiency of water transportation. The vessels cannot be fully loaded, hence the decrease of cargo flows, mostly export ones, as well as reduction of the country’s transit potential and lower tax revenues.
As for the Azov-Don Basin, the national project should provide for construction of the Bagayevsky hydrosystem on the Don river, the deadline of which was postponed to 2023 by the RF Government’s Decree.
The national project will also look into increasing the effective length and width of Kochetkovsky hydrosystem lock chamber. Its parameters do not meet the requirements of large ships. With the completion of the Bagayevsky hydrosystem, Kochetkovsky hydrosystem will remain the only bottleneck on the river.
— How is the Bagayevsky project proceeding? What was done in 2020?
— Implementation of the Bagayevsky hydrosystem project is divided into two phases — the preparation phase and the main phase. All the construction works foreseen by the first phase have been completed. The bypass channel for passage of ships during the construction period has been built.
Land reclamation for future facilities has been completed and a 100-meter long berth has been built for delivery of construction materials.
The revised design of Phase I facilities obtained state expert approval in 2020.
Underway is the work on adjusting the budget for construction of facilities of the main phase. The competition for selecting the general contractor was extended several times and then cancelled as there are few companies with resources sufficient for implementation of such works in full within the specified time. Besides, potential contractors should conduct detailed designing.
— What works under the Bagayevsky project are planned for 2021?
— The facilities of Phase I are to be commissioned and put into operation in the first quarter of the year. We also expect a positive conclusion of Glavgosexpertiza on the adjusted budget I have mentioned earlier. Then the competition procedure to select the contractor will be resumed.
— What was the scope of dredging works in 2020?
— In the reported period, works were conducted at 35 shoals limiting the passage on the Don river and at 8 limiting sections on the Seversky Donets. The scope of dredging on the transit route was as high as 1.3 million cbm.
At the unregulated river pool between the Kochetkovsky hydrosystem and Aksai the works were performed to mitigate the negative impact of dumping amid the extremely low water conditions.
Bottom-cleaning accomplished in the navigation season of 2020 was of preventive purpose. It included lifting of sunk trees.
— Large-scale works on lifting sunken ships is under discussion today. Will they cover your basin?
— It is a real problem indeed but fortunately it does not affect navigation safety in our basin. The inspection showed that neaped ships do not pose any threat although they are subject for scrapping for other reasons.
— How does the Azov-Don Basin Administration controls the impact on the environment? What compensatory measures are undertaken?
— First of all, transit area dredging within our zone of responsibility begins only with the end of the spawning season on the Don river. While conducting our works we monitor our environmental footprint. It is the responsibility of a dedicated organization. According to its research and reports, no above-limit pollution was registered in 2020.
Secondly, environment monitoring is conducted weekly at the Bagayevsky hydrosystem construction site. Besides, special measures to compensate the harm to water biological resources are conducted including calculation and release of baby fish. 1,329,000 Russian sturgeon fries were released between July 2 and July 11, 2020.
— Last year, deputies of the Rostov Region Legislative Assembly suggested introduction of an additional tax on shipping companies claiming that their activities harm fish in the water bodies of the region. What is your opinion about such initiatives?
— While realizing the significance of fish protection in the Don river and in the Tsimlyanskoye water storage basin, we should remember that river shipping should be maintained as well. I believe, careful consideration of additional tax for shipping companies is needed amid the current situation with low water level and the economic challenges caused by the coronavirus. Millions of tonnes of cargo shifting to the roads will result in congestions, accelerated wear of highways, bankruptcy of ship owners and reduction of orders to domestic shipyards – our industry, the general economy and those affected by the pandemic are not likely to benefit from such shocks.
— What repair works are planned under preparation for the navigation season of 2021?
— There is a plan to use the internavigational period for inspection and repair of the gate lock mechanisms, slopes of the navigation chambers and protection embankment, electric motors, sensors and electric magnets of local control panels.
Hydraulic facilities No3 and No4 on the Seversky Donets will undergo repair of underwater elements with preliminary removal of water from the navigation chamber. All those works aimed at improvement of the hydrosystems’ technical state will be completed by the beginning of the 2021 navigation season.