Turkmenistan has opened a vast new seaport on the Caspian Sea that the country hopes will improve its export prospects and establish it as a regional hub connecting Europe and Asia.
The opening of the $1.5 billion cargo and passenger port comes on May 2 as the Central Asia country tries to diversify its economy, which overwhelmingly depends on natural gas exports for revenues.
Gas exports are also Turkmenistan’s main source of hard currency. They took a hit when Russia, once its main customer, stopped all purchases in 2016 after a pricing dispute.
The elaborate new port in the city of Turkmenbashi will more than triple Turkmenistan’s cargo handling capacity to 25-26 million tons a year, the government said.
Although it has no outlets to the world's oceans, the Caspian Sea is an important thoroughfare for trade and passengers in the region.
Speaking before the official opening ceremony, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov said the new port will be an important link in a modern maritime transport system giving users favorable conditions for access to the Black Sea area, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
He said Ashgabat is ready to discuss use of the seaport with its landlocked neighbors, in a reference to Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.
Turkmenistan already has a railway link with China through neighboring Kazakhstan and the new port could help Ashgabat win some of the cargo flows moving between China, the Middle East, and Europe.
Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Iran also have Caspian ports.
The port has container handling facilities and a polypropylene terminal which will handle products from a nearby plant that is set to be launched later this year.
Turkmenistan does not report how much cargo its existing Caspian port currently handles.