The Caspian Sea: Ports, Tankers and Shipments

March 24, 2012
There are several reasons why that is the case, the most significant among those being the fact that the coastal states in the region still remain locked within that inland water system, which has no direct outlet to the wider international hydrocarbons markets. And that is closely linked to the second reason, viz. the unresolved legal status of that sea/lake.
Furthermore, from an environmental viewpoint, given considerable ecological vulnerability, that landlocked water body is highly allergic to any pipeline activity there. What is left then is the tanker fleet, which again does not solve the problem because the Caspian Sea is a shallow water body, a factor that limits the tankers’ deadweight capacity. Moreover, for tanker shipments to be successful, special port facilities will have to be built there. Plus, measures will have to be put in place to allow the existing and planned pipelines to provide access to the European and Asian markets. And, finally, the volume of traffic in hydrocarbons should be sufficiently high so as to cover the production and transportation costs.
The Maritime Transport Development Program for 2006–2012 and other national transport development strategy documents adopted in the Republic of Kazakhstan provide for the following two methods of hydrocarbons export shipments by water: by tanker transport and by ferry-boats carrying rail tank cars. At this point in time, pipelines are considered for possible use only as a method of continued transportation of hydrocarbon materials beyond the Caspian Sea coast.
Experts indicate several main directions of hydrocarbons transportation on the Caspian Sea. First, the Iranian direction provides a direct link to the Islamic Republic of Iran where an oil trunk pipeline is planned to be built connecting the port of Neka on the Caspian Sea and the port of Jask on coast of the Gulf of Oman. The annual volume of crude to be handled by that pipeline is expected to approximate 1 million barrels per day.  
The Aktau – Baku – Nowshahr ferry service is already in operation between Kazakhstan and Iran. Speaking of the through transportation of crude oil and petroleum products via that country, however, it should be remembered that, while Iran has fairly well developed road transport and pipeline transportation systems, that country has few railway lines, while the development of its tanker fleet on the Caspian has proceeded at a very slow pace. Moreover, the existing UN embargo also affects the barter-trade shipments between the CIS countries and Iran.
Second, the Russian direction involves direct sea shipments to the port of Makhachkala (Russia). From then on, the products could be moved by the Russian Railways and by pipeline to the Black Sea or carried in-transit via the Volga-Don Ship Canal to the Sea of Azov. There is also the Northern option via the Volga-Don Ship Canal to the Baltic Sea. However, the constraints of the Russian inland waterways direction include limited navigation opportunities during the autumn and winter period.
And third, the Black Sea – Mediterranean direction provides for a mixed-type through