EghtesadOnline: A total of 117,000 tons of goods were loaded and unloaded in Astara Port in the northern Gilan Province during the first half of the current Iranian year (March 20-Sept. 21), to register a 27% growth compared with the similar period of last year, the head of Astara Port and Maritime Organization said.
“Exports from the port stood at 65,163 tons and imports at 33,439 tons over the six-month period,” Kianoush Amiri was also quoted as saying by IRNA.
The official noted that a 75-meter-long wharf is under construction at the port, the completion of which will increase Astara’s throughput capacity from the current 700,000 tons to around 1 million tons per annum.
According to Masoud Almasi, the head of Gilan’s Agricultural Organization, over the six months ending Sept. 21, a total of 247,000 tons of agricultural products worth $25.34 million were exported from Astara Port to Russia and Azarbaijan.
“Every year, some 40 types of agricultural products are exported from Astara. We are planning to set up an agricultural export terminal to help increase our exports and generate jobs in the county. Imports of such products amounted to 29,404 tons in H1,” he said.
Run by Private Sector
Astara is among the few privately-run ports in Iran.
Amiri noted that 500 billion rials ($1.74 million) worth of investments have been made by the private sector since the beginning of the last Iranian year (March 20, 2019).
“The investments were made in establishing infrastructures such as wharfs and port facilities, storehouses, grain silos and water canals, and expanding radio communications and marine traffic control facilities,” Amiri was quoted as saying by IRNA.
The official announced that Astara Port is willing to facilitate private sector investments in all areas, especially in food processing industry and marine tourism.
The port has played a significant role in undertaking exports from the northern part of the country in recent years. It was established in the year ending March 2010 and began operation in the year ending March 2014 under a 40-year contract with the cooperation of PMO.
Spread over 55 hectares, Astara Port connects Iran with Azerbaijan. It is the only northern port linked to Azerbaijan’s land border and the only one located near the neighboring country’s railroad and the European rail network.
“At present, there are eight private-run sea and dry ports in the country engaged in trade with neighbors to the north and south,” Majid Yousefi, the secretary of the Association of Iran’s Private Ports Investors, told the Persian-language daily Iran.
Other private sea ports include Fereydunkenar in the northern Mazandaran Province, Astara Port located in the northern Gilan Province, Khajeh Nafas Port in the northeastern province of Golestan, Bandar Genaveh is southern Bushehr Province and Bandar Aftab (Garzeh) in southern Hormozgan Province.
“PMO prepared infrastructures, such as wharfs, breakwater structures and warehouses for ports like Fereydunkenar, and then handed them over to the private sector to complete the structural operations by purchasing the needed equipment. In Astara, the private sector was also tasked with the establishment of infrastructures,” Yousefi said.
According to Mohammad Sadeq Kaveh, the head of the Association of Iran’s Private Ports Investors, exchange of goods via sea is less affected by the government’s restrictive rules and regulations in private ports.
“Transportation of freights through private ports is carried out more smoothly and faster. Moreover, they have not been included on the list of US sanctioned ports,” he added.
Kaveh noted that Astara and Fereydunkenar have the highest volume of trade with Central Asian countries, Russia and Azerbaijan, while Genaveh and Aftab carry out economic exchanges with Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.
“Compared with ports like Shahid Rajaee and Imam Khomeini, private ports have smaller volume of trade but there is no significant distinction in the kind of goods they handle. A variety of goods are being exported or imported via private ports,” he said.
As per the law, these ports must be returned to the government after 40 years. But, Yousefi said, the government is revising such contracts, considering the heavy costs of running a port.
“It is planning to reduce its share of revenues in private ports. At present, 30% of the ports’ revenues go to the government and 70% to private sector investors,” he said.
Rail Freight Terminal Along North-South Corridor
The rail freight terminal in the Iranian town of Astara is continuing to gain significance on the International North-South Transport Corridor. In 2019, it handled 38% more freight volumes compared to the previous year.
With the completion of the Astara-Rasht-Qazvin railroad, rail freight traffic along the corridor will increase significantly.
The Astara rail freight terminal is located 1.4 kilometers from the border with Azerbaijan. It started transshipment operations in February 2018 when the first freight train crossed the border on the Astara (Azerbaijan)–Astara (Iran) rail section.
During two years of stable activities, the facility handled approximately 630,000 tons of freight: around 264,000 tons in 2018 and around 364,000 tons in 2019. In terms of growth, rail freight traffic has increased by almost 38%.
The Astara terminal set another milestone in November 2019 by handling a record monthly volume of 40,500 tons, RailFreight reported.
The 10-km extension of Azerbaijan’s 1,524-mm gauge rail network runs for around 8.5 km in Azerbaijan and 1.5 km in Iran, including an 82.5-meter long, 8-meter high and 11.8-meter wide bridge over Astarachay River that forms the border.
It was built at a cost of around $60 million, financed by Azerbaijan, including a 35-hectare freight transshipment facility that will be operated by Azerbaijan’s national rail operator ADY under a 25-year BOT (build-operate-transfer) agreement with Iran’s national railroad IRIR.
The new line forms part of the International North-South Transport Corridor that will link northern Europe with the Indian Ocean upon completion.
INSTC will connect Iran with Russia’s Baltic ports and Russia’s rail network with both the Persian Gulf and the Indian rail network. This means goods could be carried from Mumbai in India to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and further to Baku. They could then pass across the Russian border into Astrakhan to reach Moscow and St. Petersburg, before entering Europe.