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Albania Visit August 24-26, 2005

By doina — last modified Sep 06, 2005 10:44 AM

Published: 2005-09-06 10:44:20
Countries: Albania

From: Douglas and Judy Decker - Sailing Vessel LIMERENCE

Pleasure yachts have been advised by most cruising guide books to avoid the Albanian coast because of the danger of pirates and illegal activities. Most yachts transiting to Greece from the north Adriatic divert to the Italian coast instead of going directly south through Albanian waters. Based on our experience, we believe that it is now safe for yachts to transit the Albanian coastline.

Background

We began inquiring about Albania when we reached the eastern coast of Italy. Our plan was to cruise Croatia and Montenegro, then Greece. Perhaps advisories against Albania may be “out of date”? It seemed unnecessary to travel across the Adriatic to Italy just to double back to Greece. We checked the websites of the State Department of the USA and Great Britain, and found no warnings about the country of Albania. We wrote an email to the US Embassy in Tirana Albania, and received a response that indeed, it was safe to visit. We also received two emails from Genc Metohu of the Ministry of Tourism in Albania, warmly welcoming us to his country. We met with the Italian Guardia Costiera in Otranto Italy, who patrol the coastline between Italy and Albania. We were assured it is now safe for transiting vessels. Upon arriving in Corfu Greece, we asked the Greek Coast Guard about incidents in Albanian waters, and were told Greece has good relations with Albania and the coast is safe for vessel transit. Finally, as we cruised in Croatia and Montenegro we always asked police officials, marina staff and yacht captains for their opinions on traveling along the Albanian coastline. They all stated that it is safe to cruise Albanian waters. Our yacht insurance listed no exceptions for Albania.

Albanian Coastline

Once in Albanian waters, there are no anchorages or inlets, and few harbors of refuge along this coast. There is no weather broadcast on the Navtex system in Albania. Our destination, the Port of Durres is the main commercial port for the country serving the capital of Tirana. There are three other ports we did not investigate; Vlore, Saranda, and Shengjin. As we motor sailed down the coast from Montenegro, we saw absolutely no boat traffic. There were no fishing boats, small crafts along the shore, ships or ferries. The sea was desolate. We were seven miles offshore in 100 meters of water. We heard nothing on Channel 16. As we got close to the Durres outer light, depths reduced to ten to twelve meters. It is a large shallow bay with many dangers, so following the entrance buoys is essential.

Durres Port

Upon entering the harbor and not raising Port Control on Channel 16 or 10 as advised by the Adriatic Pilot Book, we were informed by a ship’s Captain that the frequency is Channel 15. He advised that we would not find any facilities for pleasure yachts. We were certainly an oddity entering the huge commercial port in a sailboat, with hundreds of ships, cranes, construction equipment, and barges at work.

We proceeded to the north area and found an 80-foot disabled Greek power yacht moored between two merchant ships. After damaging their props on rocks in shallow water, the yacht sat forlornly in port awaiting a tugboat from Athens. We were invited to tie alongside. There are no facilities in Durres for pleasure yachts. There is no designated area for small boats, and no water, power, or services of any kind.

The Greek yacht crew assisted by introducing us to their agent, Captain Llambi Papa, of Vital Shipping Agency. (Phone:355-52 372 44, email vital@albmail.com) He came onboard and handled our check-in with the Port Captain and Police. The cost for check-in and out was $87 Euros. You can obtain diesel fuel and water from a truck by special arrangement from this agent, plus services to travel inland. His fee was $100 Euros. We had security because we were rafted alongside the power yacht which was always staffed. However, if we docked alone, the agent would arrange security. He assured us he would find docking space for any future visiting yachts who contact him.

City of Durres

Once off the port grounds, the city of Durres is a clean, working class town. We found small shops, cafes full of people, monuments, a mosque, ATM’s, an internet, and other typical city scenes including a bride!! The money is called the LEK and the exchange rate is $120 to $1Euro. They accept Euros everywhere, including the internet. There are nice beaches outside of the port. Many people greeted us in English, and we felt safe walking the streets. European cell phones work in Albania, but not GPRS. We were warned to drink only bottled water.

Inland travel: Kruja and Tirana Albania

Our agent arranged for us to hire a guide to take us to the historic mountain village of Kruja Albania and later to the Capital city of Tirana.

Albanian coastline to Greece

As we motor sailed out of Durres on Friday afternoon, we encountered at least ten ships coming and going into port. We also saw several small fishing boats through out the night. As we got closer to Corfu Greece we were inundated with cruise ships and ferries. Our passage from Durres to Gouvia Corfu was 20 hours.

Conclusions

There is growing interest in the cruising community about Albania. The Albania’s economy is still struggling to emerge from chaos. It is a challenging yachtsman’s destination, as it offers no designated place for the traveling pleasure boat. We heard rumors about plans to build a marina. Contacting an agent prior to a visit would be prudent. It is interesting to tour the country, and we felt safe. There is a lot of construction. We saw typical city police, but no armed military presence. We heard stories of crime involving cigarette smuggling and auto theft. It is a country with many problems to solve. However, it is a democracy and it citizens are free to travel.

We have a complete update with pictures on this Albanian trip on our website under Travel Updates number 70. www.deckersailing.com If you would like additional information please contact us at deckerdoug@hotmail.com

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