The Republic of Bulgaria is a small nation located in South-East Europe. The country made a transition from an agricultural to an industrialised economy in the late 1950s.
It has been categorised as an upper-middle-income nation with one of the lowest corporate income tax rates in the EU. It is the world’s largest producer of lavender and rose oil and the fifth-biggest coal producer.
On its eastern side is the Black sea which houses the country’s major ports and harbours having trade relations with Turkey, China, the US and EU nations.
Tourism is a major driver of economic growth hence the country has invested heavily in developing its pleasure ports and Marinas. Let us have a look at the biggest ports in Bulgaria.
1. Port of Varna
Lying in northeast Bulgaria on the Black sea coast, Varna is one of the biggest ports in the region. The city of Varna is the third biggest in Bulgaria and boasts a diverse economy resting on transportation, healthcare, education and tourism sectors.
Due to its flourishing sea tourism business and the presence of many luxury resorts, it has been named the Sea Capital city of the country. Varna port also plays a crucial role in attracting the biggest cruise liners as it is a multifunctional facility offering cutting edge services to its customers.
A port of national and international significance, Varna is operational throughout the year. Its mild climate, wide access channel and protected harbour make it the principal seaport of Bulgaria handling more than half of its international maritime trade.
Approximately 2,240 vessels, 7,723,000 tonnes of cargo and 155,330 TEU are handled annually at the ports’ two main terminals operated by the Port of Varna EAD.
The East Port Terminal
Varna’s East terminal is a deepwater multipurpose facility located in Varna Bay at the southeast end of the port city. Opened on 18th May 1906, it is currently undergoing expansion for creating additional berthing facilities for passenger ships and yachts.
Spanning 429,813m2 of area, it comprises 13 cargo berths and a wharf reserved exclusively for pleasure crafts, cruises and naval vessels. With a total quay length of 2345 m and water depths of 11.50 m, it specialises in dealing with containerised cargo, general cargo, liquid bulk, roro, breakbulk and grains. It has an annual handling capacity of more than 5.5 million tonnes of cargo. Equipped with the latest port operating systems, the East terminal has acquired the reputation of being Bulgaria’s grain hub. It has a fully-automated road-rail unloading station for grains which is connected to the warehouses and silos.
Around 5 kilometres from the terminal is the Storage base also known as the Dry port. It is a distinct facility that is licenced for customs bonded warehousing. Spanning 85 decares, it has 6 warehouses with a total grain storage capacity of 15 decares. It is integrated into the national railway and roadway network and is also close to the Varna international airport.
Varna West Port Terminal
Varna’s western terminal became operational in 1974, as a port facility for serving the region’s upcoming chemical industry. Situated in the western part of Varna city near Beloslav lake, this terminal has enormous future prospects. It has evolved into Bulgaria’s container hub by handling more than 60% of the country’s containerised cargoes.
Due to its proximity to Denya’s chemical plants, it allows efficient ship-to-factory direct transportation of chemical products. Endowed with modern facilities, it also accommodates general cargo, soda ash, fertilisers, cement, coal, ores, phosphates, silica and liquid chemicals, RORO and dangerous goods on its 19 operational berths.
Its container terminal has a modern information system offering real-time container tracking services to its clients. In 2018, this facility handled more than 165,000 TEUs. The liquid bulk terminal can accommodate large oil carriers and has a total storage capacity of 10,000m3.
The multipurpose wharves can also handle heavy lifts and out-of-gauge cargoes like wind turbine components, transformer parts, steel pipes and project cargo.
2. Port of Balchik
Balchik port is positioned on the southern Black sea coastline near Balchik bay,16 nautical miles from Varna. Known as the sea gateway of Dobrudzha, one of the largest grain-producing regions of Bulgaria, Balchik is a multipurpose port dealing with shipments of liquid bulk, breakbulk, general cargo and a few containers. However, it specialises in grain exports, vegetable oils and livestock. Around 186,000 tonnes of cargo and more than 150 ships pass through the port every year.
Lying on the crossroads of major trade routes and possessing excellent maritime connections, Balchik’s general cargo terminal has trade relations with major European ports, Russia, Caucasus, Ukraine, Middle Asia, Far East and the Middle East. Operational since 1969, the terminal is one of the biggest facilities in the Black sea region.
The port spans 11,338 kilometres and comprises two 164 m berths capable of accommodating two ships at once. The maximum permissible draft is 8 m, hence the port can accommodate only medium-sized vessels weighing not more than 10,000 DWT. Directly linked with the black sea, the port terminal was built on reclaimed land behind the breakwater which houses all the cargo handling equipment and administrative buildings.
Balchik’s storage facilities include open storage covering 4200m2, located on the western side and a paved area spanning 4000 sq m having 3 silos. Fully-functional port equipment such as three 10-ton overhead cranes, 2 mobile cranes, 4 ship-to-shore cranes and 8 port trucks assist in loading and unloading operations. A customs office, border checkpoint and post phytosanitary control department are situated in the port vicinity.
Apart from being an important cargo port, Balchik is known for its yacht tourism which forms the backbone of the local economy. The marina can easily accommodate 60 yachts and also offers refuelling, repair and maintenance services. Cruises and motorboats can be hired for rental from the facility which also provides technical assistance. Tourists can enjoy water sports like sailing, snorkelling and fishing. Lastly, one of the most beautiful golf courses in the country is located near the Marina such as the Thracian Cliffs.
3. Port of Bourgas
Bourgas port lies on the western coast of the Black sea near Bourgas bay, 105 nautical miles from Istanbul. It is a major port handling shipments of bulk cargoes, RORO and raw material and is equipped with a highly-integrated system that keeps a timely record of all port operations.
It is the closest port to the Bosphorous Strait and is a major part of the trans-European transport corridor VIII linking Europe, Caucasus and Asia. Around 1,329 vessels, 6,771,000 tonnes of cargo, 25,936 TEU and 10,000 passengers are handled annually at Bourgas port.
Operated and managed by the Port Bourgas EAD, a state-owned enterprise, Bourgas port has 23 berths divided between the East Terminal and the West terminal areas. Additionally, 2 roro berths with inbuilt ramps, a large storage area for electric cars and 3 floating piers for accommodating oil tankers are also available. The oil harbour is operated by Lukoil Neftochim, the biggest industrial company in Bulgaria and the owner of the largest oil refinery in the Balkans.
The East terminal
This facility deals with general cargo such as metals, wood, packaged and canned food, scrap metal, construction equipment, heavy machinery. Bulk cargo including coal, ammonium nitrate and mineral concentrates are also processed at the terminal’s 14 designated berths with a total length of 1015 m and alongside depths of 9 m. The east terminal comprises a 50,000m2 of open storage area and a sheltered warehouse space covering 45,000m2.
The West terminal
The west port terminal comprises 6 berths spanning 710 m for handling grains, cereals, metals, coal, paper, bulk sugar, copper concentrates and much more. This facility also deals with containerised goods and has a 2000m2 stacking yard and a 90,000m2 storage space for general cargo. Possessing the largest refrigerated warehouse in the country, this terminal also receives shipments of perishable items like exotic fruits.
4. Nessebar Port
The Nessebar harbour lies on the western coast of the Black sea and ranks among the world’s most renowned cruise ship destinations. It can accommodate small ferries, yachts and superyachts on its two passenger wharves. More than 100 pleasure crafts and 35 cruises frequent the port every year.
It dates back to the Greek civilisation when the port settlement was called Mesembria or the city of Melas. Resplendent with well-preserved medieval architecture, fine cobbled streets and a picturesque waterfront, Nessebar has a rich cultural heritage and houses 40 churches belonging to different dynasties and periods. Hence, it has been recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
It also has the most exotic black sea beach resorts like the Sun beach which is Bulgaria’s biggest hotel located in the northern part of the port city. Known as the pearl of the Black Sea, the Nessebar marina offers exciting activities like windsurfing, snorkelling and scuba diving.
5. Port of Pomorie
Pomorie harbour lies in a rocky peninsular region near Burgas Bay on the southern Black Sea Coast of Bulgaria. The port covers a total area of 41,310 sq m and has berthing space for 40 boats, small ferries and cruise vessels. A picturesque marina, Pomorie is the go-to spot for Bulgarians and international travellers alike.
Pomorie is also famous for its five-kilometre long white sandy beach and beautiful resorts. Ferry services to Pomorie are offered by the Bulgaria fast ferry, plying from Nessebar and Sozopol harbours.
A fishing port was built in Pomorie for boosting the region’s aquaculture and fisheries sector. Co-financed by the European Fisheries Fund, this facility became operational in 2017. It includes a fishing wharf and a 350 m long breakwater.
6. Port of Tsarevo
Tsarevo port is situated in the southeastern part of Bulgaria and is close to the border of Turkey. The port’s Marina is one of the finest in the country as it provides world-class facilities including fully-air conditioned seating areas and a food court.
Offering mooring facilities for more than 30 cruises and pleasure crafts, Tsarevo also offers ship repair and maintenance services. A workshop, a small local market selling souvenirs and fresh seafood stalls are adjacent to the marina. Apart from being a pleasure port, some cargo is also handled at the port including grapes, wine etc which are transported through this facility to Turkey.
Known as Minchurin in the mid-1990s, the port town has been an important settlement since the 13th century and a key trading post for the Ottoman empire. Today it is divided into the old port area and the new town. The former has a fishing dock and a popular seafood market.
7. Port of Sozopol
Sozopol is the oldest Bulgarian town dating back to the Bronze age. It is a naturally well-sheltered port possessing an excellent marina lying on the starboard side of the harbour. It has 243 berths for accommodating small boats and cruises with a maximum length of 30 m. Equipped with a fuel dock, a pump-out facility and a small storage warehouse, Sozopol is also famous for its ancient fortifications, traditional houses and archaeological museum.
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Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendations on any course of action to be followed by the reader.
Shilavadra Bhattacharjee is a shipbroker with a background in commercial operations after having sailed onboard as a Third Officer. His interests primarily lie in the energy sector, books and travelling.