EghtesadOnline: Two container ships are scheduled to start sailing from Russia’s Astrakhan to Iran’s port of Anzali in September as per a decision by the International North-South Corridor Taskforce, which includes Lotus Special Economic Zone of Astrakhan, Russia, and Iran’s Anzali and Chabahar FTZs, says Seyyed Jalil Jalalifar, a member of Iran-Russia Chamber of Commerce.
Russia will provide the delivery of all products, including temperature-sensitive products that require refrigerated containers from Astrakhan to Iran’s northern ports and then to Iran’s southern ports via intermodal freight transport, in cooperation with Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization and the Islamic Republic of Iran Railways.
“This shipping line would offer Full Container Load shipment, regular services and fixed tariffs that would not alter by changing market prices or seasons,” Jalalifar was quoted as saying by the news portal of the Ministry of Roads and Urban Development.
“Refrigerated containers will be procured from the private sector in Gilan Province. The number of containers will increase every month and therefore we’ll be capable of exports of agricultural products through Caspian Sea. Russia’s trading partners, namely India and Pakistan, will be able to transport freight through this route.”
Anzali Free Trade Zone is situated in an eponymous port city in Gilan Province along the International North-South Transport Corridor. It is Iran's only free zone in the north and connects the country to the Commonwealth of Independent States, Russia and other Caspian Sea nations.
In the first four months of 2020, cargo traffic at the northern Iranian port increased by 58% to 556,000 tons. Exports were up by 54% and container operations increased by 77%, compared to the same period of last year.
Exports of non-oil goods saw an increase of 54%, which included construction goods, agricultural products, mineral goods and fertilizers, PortSEurope reported.
Iran and Russia held the 11th edition of their transport cooperation taskforce meetings via videoconferencing from July 27 to 29.
“With the help of the diplomatic apparatus of two countries, the meetings were more efficient than before and agreement were reached on a variety of issues,” Shahram Adamnejad, deputy minister of Roads and Urban Development, said on Wednesday.
Noting that several agreements on different modes of transportation, particularly investment in rail infrastructure, were reached during the meetings, the official said, “The outcomes of the 11th round of the meetings were positive and we hope to see their practical implications in the next few months,” News.mrud.ir reported.
Cooperation in International North-South Transport Corridor
The new Iran-Russia Caspian Sea shipping service is part of the cooperation between the two countries in the International North-South Transport Corridor.
INSTC is a major transit route designed to facilitate the transportation of goods from Mumbai in India to Helsinki in Finland, using Iranian ports and railroads, which the Islamic Republic plans to connect to those of Azerbaijan and Russia.
The corridor will connect Iran with Russia’s Baltic ports and give Russia rail connectivity to both the Persian Gulf and the Indian rail network.
This means goods could be carried from Mumbai to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and further to Baku. They could then pass across the Russian border into Astrakhan before proceeding to Moscow and St. Petersburg, before entering Europe.
INSTC would substantially cut the travel time for everything from Asian consumer goods to Central Eurasia’s natural resources to advanced European exports.
The Qazvin-Rasht railroad project was officially inaugurated by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani last year in the northern city of Rasht, Gilan Province.
This rail route was one of the main missing links along the International North-South Transport Corridor.
A rail route connecting Rasht to Astara on the border with Azerbaijan is another missing link along the INSTC.
The railroad has the capacity to transport 1.4 million passengers and around 5.1 million tons of cargos in the first year.
Plans are to increase these figures to 2.8 million passengers and 7 million tons in a 20-year vision plan.
According to Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammad Eslami, passenger and cargo trains can speed up to 160 kilometers per hour and 120 km/ph respectively on this route, which has 53 tunnels and 45 bridges along the way, collectively stretching for 22 kilometers and 8.4 kilometers respectively.
Nine train stations have been built along Qazvin-Rasht with a total area of 39,455 square meters.
According to Kheirollah Khademi, the head of Construction and Development of Transportation Infrastructure Company of Iran, the inauguration of Qazvin-Rasht route will cut cargo transportation time from India to the Suez Canal from 36 days to 18 days, and reduce costs by around 35%.
Since the INSTC rail route has yet to be completed for full operationalization, multimodal transportation will be used (by road and sea, as well as rail) until the missing links come on stream.
Abbas Khatibi, the deputy head of Construction and Development of Transportation Infrastructure Company of Iran, says transportation of cargo and passengers via Qazvin-Rasht railroad will save up to 20 million liters of fuel per year.
“It reduces air pollution and saves up to 157 billion rials [$1.23 million] every year. Using this rail route will reduce road accidents and save around 352 billion rials [$2.76 million] annually. The project will create around 165 jobs,” he was quoted as saying by ILNA.
The INSTC project has three original founders, namely India, Iran and Russia. The contract for the project was signed in May 2002 between these countries.
Today, the corridor features the founding countries, as well as Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Oman, Ukraine and Syria as main member states and Bulgaria as an observer member, he told Financial Tribune in an interview last year.
Russia Caspian Seaport to Boost Trade With Iran
Russia is planning to build a port on Caspian Sea near the city of Lagan to increase trade in the Caspian region and beyond.
Plans to build the port have been included in official Russian Federation plans for the region, issued on July 29, Global Construction Review reported.
It will combine a container terminal with facilities for storing and loading a range of agricultural products, including a grain elevator with a storage capacity of 300,000 tons. Other terminals will handle vegetables, fruit and cooking oil.
The grain and container terminals will each have a production capacity of 5 million tons and the liquid cargo terminal will have a capacity of 500,000 tons.
Altogether, the port will have a transshipment capacity of 12.5 million tons. At present, all Russian ports on the Caspian Sea have a capacity of 7.5 million tons.
Dredging will also be carried out to deepen the existing port’s seaway to 13 meters.
Much of the cargo carried along the Caspian Sea is not containerized, so its adoption is seen as a way of increasing Russia’s trade with the Persian Gulf countries and India, via Iran. In the reverse direction, the port may improve communications for Chinese goods bound for Europe.
The port will be built in the relatively underdeveloped Republic of Kalmykia that has long lobbied for Russian investment in a seaport. Moscow is now more responsive, owing in part to the silting up of its main Caspian port at Astrakhan, which recently forced the Russian Navy to abandon it as a base.
The Kremlin is also considering the possibility of building a shipping canal between the Caspian Sea and the Sea of Azov, on the north of the Black Sea to provide a shorter route than the existing Volga–Don Canal.
Vitaly Daginov, general director of Lagan Port, said during a press conference in March that the expected cost of the port, together with its road and rail links, was $1.6 billion.
A group of Iranian companies have expressed their interest in investing in Lagan, as well as China’s Poly Group, which specializes in the sale of artworks and defense systems, and China Energy Engineering Group International.