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In common with many other central and eastern European states, Albania (Shqipëria) emerged from an authoritarian post-WW2 communist régime in the early 1990s. In Albania's case, the economic and political isolation had been particularly severe, despite which impressive progress has since been achieved in the country's transition to a free-market economy and pluralist democracy; and Albania is now regarded as a prospective accession state to the European Union.
In support of this process of transition, the European Commission - through its successive CARDS and IPA programmes - has funded a rolling programme of technical assistance to Albania's transport infrastructure, based in the Ministry of Public Works, Transport and Telecommunications (now MTI). Andrew Sadleir was engaged in 2006 as the visiting consultant for the ports/maritime sector by the then managers of the Technical Assistance programme, consulting engineers Louis Berger SAS, and subsequently undertook work for Berger's successors, Parsons Brinckerhoff-ECORYS JV.
Port of Shëngjin
Port of Durrës
Old Port of Vlorë
Port of Sarandë
Sadleir's technical assistance inputs covered a broad range of issues, related to aspects of maintenance and improvement of physical ports infrastructure and operational facilities, as well as initiatives for institutional strengthening:
While massive investment continues in Albania's formerly primitive road infrastructure, integrating it with regional highway networks, the country's ports have a vital rôle in handling heavy industrial cargoes for steelmaking, mineral extraction, and a reinvigorated (onshore) petroleum field; to say nothing of a fast-growing volume of containerised cargoes. Additionally, the proximity of Italy's Adriatic ports ensures a demand from both tourist and commercial cargo users for the ro-ro ferry services which are core activities at Durrës and Vlorë.
Port of Durrës
The Port of Durrës handles by far the greater part (c.85%) of Albania's sea-borne cargo. The basin affords some 2.2km of quay, with depth alongside of between 6.6m and 11.1m, including dedicated handling facilities for bulk grain and bulk cement, a 'start-up' container terminal (with rapidly-growing traffic), mineral ore and scrap metal handling.
Additionally, Durrës handles substantial daily ro-ro ferry traffic, for which the construction of new landside terminal facilities began construction in 2008. After a troubled start, and the financial collapse of the original Slovenian contractor, the new terminal works were brought to a successful conclusion in 2012 by Albanian contractor Vega sh.p.k.
As reorganised, the Port's holding company remains in 100% state ownership, while its management is now constituted as a quasi-autonomous Port Authority - a stage in the planned transition to an independent ‘landlord port’ status.
The Port's Master Plan was comprehensively reviewed by consultants, under another EU CARDS-funded contract, in 2007/08.
A multi-beam bathymetric survey (exceeding IHO requirements for "Special Order" survey), carried out in April 2007, provides the Harbour Master's Office with a detailed seabed image in the approach channel and basin, to ensure safe navigation.
Old Port of Vlorë
Albania's second general cargo port lies at Vlorë, some 55NM south of Durrës. The "Old Port" is located in the heart of Vlorë town, immediately north of the town's highly-regarded tourist beaches.
As of 2007, both general cargo and petroleum products are handled on the eastern pier, a severely-dilapidated concrete-piled finger jetty, where limitations of both working space and structural load capacity mean that much of the lifting must be done by ship's own gear. Thanks, however, to financial assistance from Cooperazione Italiana allo Sviluppo (a department of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs), this structure is soon to be replaced by a shoreline quay, according to a rehabilitation master plan devised by consulting engineers Gibb.
Vlorë also handles regular trans-Adriatic ro-ro ferries, currently occupying somewhat exposed berths at the head of the Port's western pier.
Some way distant from the Old Port, and beyond the Vlorë conurbation, is to be the Adriatic terminal of the proposed AMBO trans-Balkan oil pipeline (Burgas-Vlorë); envisaged as just one element in a re-invigorated petro-chemical port and associated heavy industrial zone.