Georgian Maritime Sector Transformation through EU support

Proper development of the country’s Black Sea region is a contributing factor not only to the economic or social development of the port cities but of the country as a whole. Georgia has been actively involved in the maritime sector for a few years – foreign investments are being attracted, Georgian seafarers are operating on ships sailing under the flags of different countries, research activities are being carried out, more young people get interested in this field. One of the clear examples of this is Nanuka Tsereteli, a student of Batumi State Maritime Academy. Her love for the profession brought her from Tbilisi to Batumi. She says it was a tough decision to make, but in the end, her commitment and determination won out:

Being a seafarer requires a lot of emotional balance and courage, especially for a female seafarer which is quite a new concept. It was a big challenge for me too. When I started my studies at Batumi State Maritime Academy I was excited with the fact that our simulators are 90% reality-based, which is very important,” said Nanuka.

Georgia has the greatest potential in the maritime field – there are about 12,600 sailors in the country, whose contribution to the budget is around half a billion GEL annually.

Around 80% of goods in the world are being transported by sea. According to 2019 data, there was a record increase in the amount of containerized goods in the country (43%). The purpose and function of the ports were clearly showcased during the coronavirus pandemic, when the basic vital resources were imported to the country uninterruptedly by ships.

However, a few years ago it was a different story – the sector was quite underdeveloped in the country, there was a clear need for change. The new steps in the industry were initiated with the support of the European Union. Ever since first appearing on the scene, The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) has been promoting the development of maritime transport in Georgia for a few years now. Within the framework of projects funded by the European Commission and EMSA, Georgia benefits in terms of both human and technical resources. The mission is clear – quality implementation of EU standards in the field of maritime transport.

In recent years, the country has undergone a number of drastic changes in this field. In particular, as a result of the audit of the seafarers’ education and certification system, starting from 2014 Georgian seafarers have the right to be employed without restrictions on the ships registered under the flags of EU member states. If before 2014 Georgian seafarers operated mainly on the ships of two European countries – Malta and Cyprus, today they are employed on the ships of countries such as Italy, Portugal, Greece and many more.

“The recognition of Georgian seafarers’ competency certificates was suspended in 2010. With the support of the European Union, it took us three years to implement the necessary reforms in the maritime field, both administratively and academically. We opened a training centre, conducted trainings and as a result regained recognition, which allowed Georgian seafarers to return to EU-flagged vessels. But that’s not where we stop, we continue moving forward step by step”, said Irakli Sharabidze, Rector of the Batumi State Maritime Academy.

All this is the result of the fact that the Georgian seafarers’ education, training and certification system has successfully passed the audit of the European Maritime Safety Agency, as a result of which the European Commission has recognized the seafarer certificates issued by Georgia. The result of the successful audit is also that more than 20 European countries have signed agreements on mutual recognition of seafarers’ certificates with Georgia, and now 40% more Georgian sailors are employed on under European flag vessels then there were in 2015.

“Our education system has been radically changed and improved, fully adapted to European standards. The diplomas and certificates of competency issued here are recognized not only by European countries but also by the world countries with the leading maritime industries (more than 20). Today we have a lot of opportunities to export our skills and work in companies that are prestigious and offer high remuneration “- says Jaba Mutidze, Captain.

It should also be noted that for the first time in the history of Georgia a document, which includes a plan for the development of Georgia’s maritime transport sector is currently being drafted.

“The sea is the future of Georgia – reforms are being actively implemented in this direction, in order to establish Georgia as a leading maritime country in the region and in the Black Sea basin in general. The reforms implemented in this direction prove that we are developing. With the support of the EU, in 2021, for the first time in our history, the country will have Maritime Transport Strategy. This will allow Georgia to have a strategy for the short, medium and long term, which will enable it to become a leading maritime country” – said Tamar Ioseliani, Director of the Georgian Maritime Transport Agency.

Another step forward for the country are the activities aimed at attracting maritime investment to Georgia, combating climate change in line with green principles, investments in maritime infrastructure and more.

“The European Union plays a significant role in determining the maritime future of Georgia. It is important to highlight the environmental component – we are actively involved in projects aimed at the creation of green ports in the country, which will be the determinants in our future plans. Besides, thanks to this pilot project energy efficiency survey of our ports will be conducted, enabling us to further discuss investment projects and raise the awareness in the field of environmental protection in Georgia, “- said Tamar Ioseliani.

In 2019-2020, water quality monitoring surveys were also conducted in the country with the involvement of Georgian experts. The purpose of the surveys was to assess the quality of coastal and transitional water ecosystems, determining the appropriate measures to protect water resources.

“Georgia is a leading country in the Eastern Partnership, where the international surveys of European standards were conducted with the participation of both Georgian and foreign specialists. As part of the EU project, the country has received state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, which will allow us to continue Black Sea coastline surveys in the future. It is important for us to keep the government and the public well informed about the results of these surveys so that further measures can be taken to improve the environment of the Black Sea coast” –  said Nino Tandilashvili, Deputy Minister of Environmental Protection and Agriculture of Georgia.

In addition to surveys, the Batumi Laboratory is being actively modernised, including organisation of trainings for experts and the introduction of the new modern equipment for analyses. This aims to improve Georgia’s capacity to better manage water resources. One of the main directions of the project remains the approximation of the Georgian legislation with the EU water management policy.

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