Huge European inland waterway project back in the spotlight

Posted by Richard Strauss

Huge European inland waterway project back in the spotlight

Source :  Seatrade Maritime

An ambitious project to establish a vertical link between the Danube and Greece’s Aegean coast by a navigable route via the Morava and Vardar/Axios rivers is back in the spotlight as China pushes to promote its’ and Asia’s trade interests through the new Silk Road concept.

By European standards the project is of colossal proportions but its development would bring about radical changes to the transportation options in the European wider region, and is moving up the agenda of bilateral issues concerning Greece and her Eastern European neighbours, particularly Serbia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Bulgaria and Romania.

Development of a major trade route involving land, air and sea is already in progress and the utilisation of existing rivers are now seriously being looked at as the wider plan takes shape.

The project has been addressed at top-level talks involving leaders in Athens, Beijing, Belgrade and Skopje over the past few years, and most recently, it was discussed at a Greek-Serbian conference attended by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Bulgarian Prime Minister, Boyko Borisov, has been talking of waterway and train links between Greece’s north Aegan port of Thessaloniki and Burgas, on the Bulgarian Black Sea, and Serbia’s Belgrade.

The waterway would offer a much faster and lower-cost route for cargo destined for Europe from the Far East with studies indicating such a route would work out to be some four days faster compared to the existing option via Rotterdam where cargo is dispatched from the Dutch port to reach the Danube River, running roughly horizontally, from Central Europe, in Germany’s southwest, to the Black Sea, at a point on Romania’s east coast.

Development of the new waterway would offer a transportation link from the East Mediterranean directly to the heart of Europe, via the Axios/Vardar, Morava and Danube rivers. Cargo would no longer need to be shipped to Gibraltar and from there up to the Netherlands, or be held up in the narrow Bosporus strait.

This is an attractive prospect for China and other East Asian countries, which export millions of containers to European markets and Russia each year.

The Greek, Serbian and FYROM routes will need to be widened and deepened, while, according to a Serbian study, canals bypassing Skopje and two Serbian cities, Nis and Kraljevo, would need to be developed.