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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Black Sea Leaders Sign Deal Creating Caspian Ferry Link

ODESSA -- Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan have opened a new Black Sea ferry link, marking the start of a Euro-Asian transport corridor aimed at bringing Caspian oil to the West.

Ministers from the three countries signed deals Monday in Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odessa to open the link between the nearby port of Illichyovsk and the Georgian port of Poti.

"This is a very important event and it marks the start of a Euro-Asian transport corridor," said Ukrainian Transport Minister Ivan Dankevich.

The ferry link could soon bring oil to Ukraine, which depends heavily on Russian supplies.

The link is also a breakthrough for Georgia, largely isolated by years of conflict with separatists in the Transcaucasus republic since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

The deal would allow dry cargoes to be transported at first. A new railway connection that can carry oil will be added in September, Dankevich said.

An oil terminal with early capacity of 40 million tons is under construction at Pivdenny near Odessa but funds have been slow to reach the $300 million project.

Georgian experts say that once construction at an oil terminal in Batumi is complete, 25 million tons of Azeri oil could be delivered annually to Ukraine.

Kiev currently imports 35 million to 40 million tons of oil a year, more than 30 million tons of it from Russia.

Ukrferry, which will serve the route, plans to open another ferry link next month between Skadovsk and Poti and has already been serving a route between Illichyovsk and Bulgaria's Varna.

The Illichyovst-Poti route leads on to a connection between the Azeri capital and the port of Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan with onward links to Iran, the rest of Central Asia and China.