Pro port of the month: Pirro Vengu (AL)
In April 2021, the Port of Durrës officially joined ESPO as an observer member. This is the perfect opportunity to have an interview with Mr. Pirro Vengu, CEO of Durrës Port Authority, who presents his port as well as himself!
Can you tell us briefly about the Port of Durrës? What are its main characteristics and challenges?
Durres is the oldest and largest port in Albania, accounting for 90% of the country’s maritime trade. Our throughputs are indicators of Albania’s growing international trade and its increased regional footprint in Adriatic Europe. The port of Durrës has grown significantly over the past three years and forecasts call for further growth despite COVID-related disruptions. On the one hand, this is excellent news. On the other hand, it also creates some challenges. Bearing in mind that the port is entirely surrounded by the urban fabric with limited opportunities for expansion, we have endeavored to improve infrastructure, security, intermodality, logistics-related services, while the current port configuration hinders our green transition, in particular in bulk and in general. freight sector. These are the reasons why the Albanian government took the strategic decision to move the port of Durrës to a new port facility and to return the current area to the city.
What is your vision for the Port of Durrës for the next decade? What are the main investment projects in the coming years?
Our vision is to become a regional logistics hub. The master plan for the new port of Durrës 2030 envisages the relocation of freight operations to a new modern facility to be built in the north of the bay, in Porto Romano, while the port of the old town will be dedicated to passengers, cruises and to an integrated marina and real estate development. This is very similar to what so many European ports have done over the past decade, the latest example being Tallinn. We will have a total reset that will benefit both the maritime and tourism industries, new port services integrated with a logistics and energy park, as well as improved security and operations capable of serving not only Albania but also our regional customers in Kosovo, North Macedonia and Adriatic Europe as a whole.
In April 2021, the Port of Durrës joined ESPO as an observer member. What were the reasons for joining ESPO as an observer member? What is the added value in your opinion of being part of an organization like ESPO?
Joining ESPO was a natural and timely decision. Albania’s path to EU membership (we expect membership talks to begin this year) means that the Port of Durrës needs to keep abreast of the latest policy and regulatory developments in the EU in this area. of maritime transport. We value ESPO’s voice in Brussels and rely on the unparalleled expertise of its network of ports to help us improve operating standards, port governance and strengthen the Albanian maritime sector as a whole.
Albania is a candidate country for EU membership. What would be the added value of Albania’s accession to the EU for your port? What are the main changes from a port perspective to prepare for EU membership? What is the role of the recently created Transport Community in this regard?
Obviously, the process of joining the EU has had and will continue to have a major socio-economic impact on our country. The EU accession negotiations will further consolidate Albanian institutions, support the reform momentum of our maritime regulators and operators, while helping the private sector to become more competitive. Wider consolidation of the rule of law will boost trade and investment, leading to the growth of the shipping and logistics industries. Going back to what I shared earlier, the relocation of the port will meet the new requirements while ensuring safety and environmental sustainability.
The Transport Community is an international organization in the field of mobility and transport, composed of 33 participants – the whole of the EU and the six countries of the Western Balkans, which aims to integrate the transport markets of the Western Balkans into the EU, by adopting and implementing EU legislation and by supporting projects that link the Western Balkans with each other and with the EU.
The transport community has drawn up a set of work plans for the development of the TEN-T extension of the EU’s comprehensive and core networks to the Western Balkans, identifying priority projects of regional interest, including recently a development plan. action for water transport and multimodality. More recently, we have benefited from the support of the Transport Community for the establishment of the Center of Excellence for Maritime Affairs (CEMA) in Durrës. This is an instrument that will help us strengthen our regional footprint as maritime service providers, improve our governance, prepare to meet flag, port and coastal state standards and obligations. as well as to identify solutions to fight climate change, support growth and increase resilience.
Looking at the maps, can the Western Balkans play an important role in improving connectivity within the European Union? Could you explain further?
Absolutely – we are part of Europe, surrounded by EU member states. So focusing on improving transport links and integrating the logistics chain is the right approach. It benefits not only the Western Balkans and neighboring countries of the EU, but the EU as a whole. The port of Durrës is already the port of Kosovo and to some extent of North Macedonia. So we are already experiencing this regional dimension. Yet we realize that with modernized port infrastructure and more capacity building, we can do better. The Secretariat of the Transport Community, with whom we work in close collaboration, plays an essential role in supporting this change.
The COVID-19 crisis is having a profound impact on the European economy and society. What was the impact of this crisis on the port of Durrës?
The port of Durrës has been on the front line, first of all, following the devastating earthquake that hit Albania in November 2019, as we make sure that the support and help from our European friends we get through quickly and efficiently. Second, we remained operational throughout the pandemic, albeit under a strict protocol, while facilitating the work of all operators to ensure the continuity of their activities. It is true that the Ferry industry has been particularly affected, but there are also some positive points in terms of General Cargo and containerized goods.
In order to get goods to the desired destinations, good connections between the hinterland and the port are of paramount importance. Can you briefly describe how the port of Durrës is connected to its hinterland?
The port of Durrës is located 35 km from Tirana and 25 km from Tirana International Airport. It is now partially connected to the national railway network as well as to the international railway to Montenegro. But we have not yet reached full intermodality in our terminals due to the limitations of our current urban environment. The offshoring of freight operations will allow us to focus more on logistics areas in a free hinterland and rail and road interconnection terminals for all types of freight.
The port of Durrës is important for NATO. Can you tell us why?
Albania has been a member of NATO since 2009 and within this framework there have been regular exchanges with NATO officials through international exercises or cargo handling for relevant missions and troops from NATO in South East Europe. But to understand the importance of the port of Durres, one need only note the vital role it played as a forward operating base for the US-led NATO exercise – Defender Europe 2021.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on global value and production chains, the debate over relocating industry to or closer to Europe and diversifying supply chains has taken hold. a new impetus. Do you think that eventually we will see a relocation of industry closer to Europe as well as more diverse supply chains?
Absolutely, and I think you can see this happening already. Having said that, I don’t think it will happen overnight. Global production processes will take time to reverse or relocate. And I think it will be motivated by the need to relocate some critical areas, but not necessarily all. In the broad sense, I share the idea that the post-pandemic situation can be an opportunity for short sea shipping and logistics in Europe and in the Mediterranean in particular.
What are the environmental priorities of the Port of Durrës?
Since 2019, we have clearly expressed our desire to reduce our carbon footprint in the current facility and to increase environmental standards in the new port facility. As of April of this year, DPA has been an ISO 14001: 2015 certified company for our environmental management system. But we want to do more by integrating environmental performance into our pricing policy and by encouraging green solutions for port operators and shipping companies. In addition, our new Port of Durrës 2030 master plan has placed a strong emphasis on green and sustainable policies in the new location of the port of Durrës in Porto Romano.
How did you come to sea transport? How did your professional career lead you to this position?
From the European Council on Foreign Relations, to the Chief of Staff of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to later become the head of the Albanian anti-corruption office. Hesitant at first but did not take long to appreciate and fall in love with maritime transport. I could hardly ever imagine a sector so traditional and yet so dynamic at the same time. It’s always exciting and you never get bored.