Durrës, Albania (PortSEurope) March 4, 2021 – Exit News, an independent Albanian news portal which also publishes investigative stories, claims that the “awarding of the concession of the Port of Durres to an United Arab Emirate (UAE) company, Symphony Invest, and the signing of an Agreement for Economic Cooperation, ratified by Albania’s Parliament less than a week later, violates the clauses of the Stabilisation and Association
Agreement (SAA) of Albania with the European Union (EU)”. The SAA lays down the stringent competition and transparency clauses for concessions and investments in Albania. It doesn’t allow preferential treatment to be given to non-EU countries. According to Exit News, the concession and the nature of the agreement with an Emirati company appears to bypass these provisions and prevent fair competition from firms from EU countries. Derogation from the Agreement can only take palace if the European Council agrees and under conditions determined by them. The EU Delegation in Tirana has asked the Albanian government for clarification on the Agreement for Economic Cooperation between Albania and the UAE, including the concession for the Port of Durres. It said the EU is aware of the agreement concluded in November 2020 between Albania and the UAE, which includes a major redevelopment of the Durres port. The EU has asked for clarifications in order to assess the compliance of the agreement with the SAA between the EU and Albania. In December 2020, Albania’s Top Channel broadcaster surprised everyone by announcing that the Albanian government and the UAE’s Emaar company signed an agreement for the latter to develop part of Durrës port into a tourist area dedicated to passengers and yachting. For the transport of goods, the government plans (no details are available) the construction of a new port in nearby Porto Romano. The value of the Emaar investment was said to be €2 billion ($2.43 million), the largest ever in Albanian history. The news was not picked by international media and experts were sceptical that such an investment is feasible in one of Europe’s poorest countries. In January, Albania’s opposition Democratic Party (DP) raised concerns over a contract between the Albanian government and an UAE firm called Symphony Investments, claiming that the agreement will hand over Durrës Port to the company. The draft does not contain any conditions, criteria, or procedures and gives “carte blanche” to the government, according to the PD. In fact, Symphony Investments is the family investments vehicle of Mohamed Alabbar, Emirati businessman and founder of Emaar Properties, developer of one of the world’s tallest buildings, Burj Khalifa, and one of the world’s largest and most visited malls, The Dubai Mall, which are both part of Emaar’s 500-acre development Downtown Dubai. Emaar had annual revenue of $6.99 billion in 2018 and a market capitalisation of over $9.7 billion. Symphony Investments is managed by Alabbar’s son Rashid. According to the Democratic Party (PD), an “Agreement of Economic Cooperation” was signed between Albania and the UAE in November 2020 and was ratified in Parliament. Based on this, the government has drafted a law which would hand over Durrës Port to Symphony Invests. PD also claims that the agreement violates the Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU from 2009 because the draft prevents any EU or Albanian companies from bidding for the port- related project. Because it is classed as a “strategic investment”, the government can choose any company to carry out various elements of the project. It is not clear whether the Exit News reported violations of the SAA are correct. The media outlet is also used by the PD to attack the government. No details were given about the possible start of the project for the transformation of Durrës Port into a tourist complex, the funding sources, or the duration of the works. The project also envisages a host of transformational investments, along the entire perimeter in front of the port, including residential complex, hotels, shopping malls, entertainment facilities, new roads and parks (Read PortSEurope article UAE investing €2 billion in the transformation of the port of Durres). It is important to note that in the past several years the port of Durrës is becoming the sea gate for land-locked Kosovo and North Macedonia. Its position is further strengthened with the agreed €204 million ($250.58 million) financing for infrastructure works in Albania and Kosovo from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and €77.6 million of funding from donors (Read PortSEurope article Albania’s port of Durres gets closer to landlocked Kosovo and North Macedonia). Durres (Durrës, Durrësi) is Albania’s main port located near the Strait of Otranto. It is only 33 km west of the capital Tirana. Durrës is at one of the narrower points of the Adriatic Sea and opposite the Italian ports of Bari (300 km away) and Brindisi (200 km away). It serves as a main gate for European Corridor VIII and Corridor Durrës–Kukës–Morinë. Port of Durrës handles 81.8% of all domestic transport and over 90% of freight transport. It has the largest cargo, container, ferry and passenger terminals in Albania. A concession for Pier 6 of Durrës port (container terminal) was awarded to Hili Company from Malta for a period of five years. The value of the concession is €30 million ($36.46 million) (Read PortSEurope article Who manages a terminal in Durrës port that is to receive a €2 billion investment and is the sea gate for Kosovo and North Macedonia?). Again, Exit News dedicated in January an article on the complex structure of Hili Company, owned by a web of other firms, owned by several Maltese individuals. Exit News describes irregularities with owners of some of these companies. Hili Company responded to an inquiry from Euronews Albania about the accusations raised by the Democratic Party detailed in the Exit News article. The company ruled out claims raised by PD over their “alleged involvement in the Panama Papers scandal”. “We categorically deny that any of our companies or beneficial owners are connected to the Panama Papers,” said the company. Hili Company also dismissed other accusations made by former Democratic Party MP, Jorida Tabaku, that the “offshore company was involved in money laundering charges” and that its “administrator was under investigation in Malta” over the same charges. Previously, the management of Pier 6 of Durrës Port (container terminal) was provided by Turkey’s iron and steel producing company Kurum (Kürüm) – a 35-year long concession awarded in 2011. The Durrës Port Authority terminated the contract with Kurum last year. Since September 2020, the Kurum company has been suing Albania in World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington seeking a compensation of €100 million for breach of contract for the management of Durrës port container terminal. The World Bank has been active in Durrës, running a project to improve the efficiency and the capacity of the port. This has involved increasing its commercial orientation by establishing an autonomous port authority, privatising operations, improving customs procedures, rehabilitating infrastructure and improving operations and safety (Read PortSEurope article Albania’s port of Durres is attracting attention and investments) Durres port terminals: – Container terminal: quay length 265 m; quay depth 8.6-10 m; area 60,062 sq m; storage capacity 3.000 TEU (for comparison it’s bigger than the capacity of each of the two container terminals in Bulgaria’s Black sea port of Varna – 1,600 and 2,000 TEU); handling capacity 180,000 TEU/year – General cargo West Terminal: quay length 800 m; quay depth 7-8.2 m; area 92,680 sq m; handling capacity 1.5 million tonnes/year – Bulk cargo East Terminal: quay length 422 m; quay depth 6.5-11.5 m; area 135,000 sq m; handling capacity 1.8 million tonnes/year – Ferry terminal: quay length 500 m; quay depth 8.5-10 m; terminal building 5,400 sq m; capacity 10,000 passengers/day or 1.5 million passengers/year Albania, with 440 km of coastline is accessible by sea via ports located on the Eastern side of the Adriatic and Ionian seas. Maritime transport is carried out in the four main Albanian ports – Port Authority of Durres, Vlore Seaport, Shengjin Port, Saranda Seaport as well as in the fuel ports – Romano Port and Petrolifera Port. Vlora is Albania’s second largest port that serves mostly passengers and handles small amount of cargo. It is part of European Corridor VIII that connects Albania, and more specifically the ports of Durres and Vlora, with Bulgaria’s Black Sea ports of Burgas and Varna. Saranda port covers 18,000 m² and is in the south of Albania in the Ionian Sea. Its main operations are passengers and ferries with the port of Corfu in Greece. Shengjin port is in the north-western Albania in the Adriatic Sea. Its cargo capacity is 60 million tonnes per year. It is expected in the future to accommodate export and import for the land-locked Kosovo, North Macedonia and even for Serbia. Romano port is located 6.5 km north of Durres. It is a terminal for coastal oil and gas services and their by-products and liquefied gas. The plans are to be developed as a modern multimodal port. Petrolifera port is in Vlora bay and serves as a terminal for oil and liquefied gas. Its key advantage is the proximity to Greek and Italian refineries. It is also part of European Corridor VIII. The location and connection to the most important European corridors places Albania in a geographically strategic position. Albania connects the Western Mediterranean countries with the Balkan and Asian countries. Copyright (C) PortSEurope. All Rights Reserved. 2021.