FIGURES released by Sea Port of St Petersburg (SPSP), the joint stock company responsible for the management and operation of the Russian port, reveal just how nimble the company has had to be in order to match violently changing trade flows. Over the past four years, the port's trade has changed dramatically. Previously, 20 per cent of its traffic was export cargo and 80 per cent was imports. The cargo now is 20 per cent imports and 80 per cent exports. Port management has had to work hard to cope with these changes but there have been substantial benefits, for example increased availability of shed space which previously was occupied by import cargo awaiting collection by consignees. Although the total tonnage handled by the port last year was, at 10 million tonnes, roughly the same as in 1993, a brief glance at the statistical breakdown shows how massive the changes were. Take grain, for example. In 1993, 45 per cent of the port's throughput consisted of grain imports but last year, government cutback on grain purchases from overseas resulted in a fall from 4.5 million tonnes to just 500,000 tonnes. Earlier this year, SPSP management could throw no light on whether grain imports would increase again since much depends on harvest levels and government policies. That 40 per cent of the port's 1993 traffic which effectively vanished was replaced by very different commodities. Steel and non-ferrous metals compensated considerably, exports increasing from 500,000 tonnes to 2.5 million tonnes. The non-ferrous percentage is high, with aluminium, zinc and copper being shipped, mostly conventionally in ingot form. The export of oil, two million tonnes last year, is effectively a new traffic. Oil products coming from inland refineries are brought down the Volga in barges from up-river refineries and transferred to sea-going vessels at St Petersburg. In the past, almost all of the output from these refineries was used domestically. Coal too rose from 950,000 tonnes in 1993 to 1.5 million tonnes last year as Russia stepped up its mineral exports. Making less of an impact in tonnage terms but nevertheless valuable cargo, reefer import traffic increased threefold from 200,000 tonnes to 600,000 tonnes last year. The year also saw the first reefer containers moving through the port in any numbers. Sixty per cent of the conventional reefer cargo is described as meat and milk products, and 40 per cent is fruit, including bananas, apples and oranges. Practically the only traffic that stayed static was containerised. Boxes are handled at a terminal equipped with four gantry cranes. A total of 95,000 teus were handled last year, the same as in 1993. Forty per cent of containers are export, 60 per cent are import. SPSP also said that dwell times for containers in the port had reduced dramatically since 1993. The port expects substantial growth in its container traffic as Russia imports increasing volumes of manufactured goods. According to Gennady Batalin, SPSP's director of operations and marketing, St Petersburg is proving itself the optimal choice for container operators with cargo for the Russian hinterland, especially Moscow which lies only 650 kilometres away. 'Competitors for our natural container traffic have put around quite a few scare stories and admittedly we did have some problems relating to administration as we began to handle more and more ships and containers owned by non-Russian companies,' he said. 'However, all of this is now behind us and our customers tell us they are moving boxes smoothly through the port and have been doing so for many months.' Road haulage to local and long-haul destinations is running smoothly and safely with a number of private haulers competing for business. 'We have even been able to accommodate the needs of reefer container traffic where carriers are requesting fast turnaround times, Mr Batalin said. It was quite realistic to expect a trucker to make a round trip from St Petersburg to Moscow and back in three days. St Petersburg has 43 active quays and the water depth alongside ranges from nine to 11 metres. These are served by 120 cranes.