Klaipeda State Seaport
Review and History

Klaipeda State Seaport lies on the shores of the southeast Baltic Sea where the Curonian Lagoon and the Neman River meet in Lithuania. Klaipeda State Seaport is about 230 kilometers southwest of the Port of Riga in Latvia and some 123 nautical miles southeast of Sweden's Port of Ronehamn. Klaipeda State Seaport is Lithuania's only seaport, and it is home to large shipbuilding yards that make floating docks and fishing trawlers. Ferries connecting to Sweden and Germany operate from Klaipeda State Seaport. In 2007, about 186 thousand people lived in Klaipeda State Seaport.

Klaipeda State Seaport supports a large deep-sea fishing industry, and it has a fish cannery. Other important industries in Klaipeda State Seaport include the manufacture of amber jewelry, paper, cotton textiles, and radio and telephone parts. Timber working is also important to the local economy. Being near the Baltic coast's white sand beaches and the country's most popular coastal resort of Palanga, Klaipeda State Seaport is growing as a popular tourist destination. After the early 1990s when over 207 thousand people lived there, Klaipeda State Seaport's population began to shrink.

Port History

Historians believe that Baltic tribes had a settlement on the site of the modern Klaipeda State Seaport as long ago as the 7th Century. In the middle 13th Century, the Teutonic Knights, accompanied by crusaders from Lubeck, occupied the Sambian Peninsula some 100 kilometers southwest of the current Klaipeda State Seaport. The knights established a fort called Memelburg that came to be known as Memel Castle, and the fort housed troops from the Teutonic Order. A small port was established next to the castle for merchant boats from Lubeck and Bremen.

In 1255, indigenous Sambians attempted and failed to take the fort/castle. By 1259, they surrendered, and Memel then became a colony for settlers from Holstein, Lubeck, and Dortmund. With a cathedral and parochial churches, the future Klaipeda State Seaport became the main city of the Diocese of Curonia.

In 1323, a Lithuanian army besieged Memel after they conquered the surrounding town. Destroying Sambia, they forced the Knights to sue for a truce. The Teutonic Order's Livonian branch was replaced by knights from the Prussian branch in 1328, but continuing attacks by the Lithuanians slowed the future Klaipeda State Seaport's growth and development. In 1379, the Lithuanian tribes sacked the town and the castle, and they attacked workers trying to rebuild the castle in 1389.

The 1422 Treaty of Melno established a formal border between the Teutonic Order and Lithuania's Grand Duchy that held for the following five centuries until 1919. The new town, as part of the Grand Duchy, received city rights in 1475.

When Memel adopted Lutheranism in 1525, the Duchy of Prussia was created as a fief of Poland. This began a long era of prosperity for the Klaipeda State Seaport and the city. The port served Lithuania, exporting profitable wheat. A defense system was built around the town beginning in 1627, changing both its status and its prospects.

Sweden occupied Klaipeda State Seaport several times from 1629 until 1635 during the Polish-Swedish War and the Thirty Years' War. After the Northern Wars, the Treaty of Konigsberg divided revenues from Klaipeda State Seaport with Sweden. In 1660, Prussia gained independence from Sweden and Poland. In 1678, Swedish troops invaded the area but could not capture the fortress of Memel.

By the early 1700s, Memel was one of Prussia's strongest fortresses, and the future Klaipeda State Seaport became part of the Kingdom of Prussia. In 1743, Klaipeda gained its first timber trade office, and Klaipeda State Seaport soon became a well-known timber trading port for the Baltic Sea region that could accommodate more than 300 boats at a time. In 1757 during the Seven Years' War, Russian troops captured the fort and, from 1757 until 1762, Klaipeda State Seaport was controlled by the Russian Empire. After the war, the town grew while the fortress fell into decay.

In 1773, Memel became part of East Prussia. The combination of high duties in Riga and lax customs in Memel attracted traders from England to establish sawmills in the future Klaipeda State Seaport. In 1784, over half of the ships that arrived in the Klaipeda State Seaport were English. Over the next century, wood manufacturing brought revenues and stability to Klaipeda State Seaport. Great Britain used timber exports from Klaipeda State Seaport for the Royal Navy. In 1792, over 750 British ships took lumber from the Lithuanian forests through Memel, the future Klaipeda State Seaport.

By 1800, the Klaipeda State Seaport was importing salt, iron, and herrings and exporting a much larger volume of corn, flax, hemp, and timber. The 1815 Encyclopedia Britannica reported that Memel had the best harbor in the Baltic. The future Klaipeda State Seaport was the temporary capital of the Kingdom of Prussia during the Napoleonic Wars. King Frederick William III's court and his government lived there in 1807-1808. It was here that the King signed the October Edict abolishing serfdom in Prussia, stimulating many reforms.

Under Bonaparte's Continental System in the early 19th Century, the area surrounding Klaipeda State Seaport suffered economically. After Germany was unified into the German Empire in 1871, Memel was the most northerly city in Germany. The town surrounding the future Klaipeda State Seaport began to grow as the industrial revolution and urbanization processes reached Prussia in the latter half of the 19th Century.

Because German investments in the province of East Prussia focused on Konigsberg, Klaipeda State Seaport stagnated. With scarce heavy industry, growth slowed to a crawl even though the timber industry continued to be central to the economy.

By 1900, steamer routes were active between Memel and Cranz and Tilsit. A railway was built connecting Insterburg to St. Petersburg, with Memel on the route, giving the future Klaipeda State Seaport a direct connection to Konigsberg. A 1910 German census reported that almost 150 thousand people lived in the Klaipeda State Seaport area, half of whom spoke Lithuanian. While Germans dominated in the town and larger villages, Lithuanians dominated the rural areas.

After World War I, Klaipeda State Seaport was made a protectorate of the Allies under the Treaty of Versailles. The territory was governed by an autonomous representative government under a French High Commissioner with the goal of becoming self-governing.

In 1923, Lithuania invaded the Klaipeda State Seaport region with weapons supplied by the Germans. The French made weak efforts to resist the invasion. The city was annexed by Lithuania and given the name Klaipeda with tremendous results for the Lithuanian economy. The region accounted for as much as 30% of the whole country's production. However, the region's economic importance declined when Germany imposed economic sanctions.

In 1924, the Klaipeda Convention was signed in Paris, handing the Klaipeda State Seaport to the Lithuanian State's Port Directorate. From 1924 until 1939, Klaipeda State Seaport flourished. New quays were built, new marine businesses were established, and shipping began to grow.

As Lithuanians entered the area, conflicts between native inhabitants of Klaipeda State Seaport and the new residents increased. In 1934, German workers were fired, and Germans were accused of treason. German newspapers were suppressed, and some German political candidates had their citizenship revoked so they could not be elected. In 1937, Lithuanian authorities seized German lands and public buildings. The local Klaipeda State Seaport population continued to resist Lithuanian rule, so much so that the Lithuanian troops were confined to their barracks and the native German police were keeping public order.

In 1939, Nazi Germany's Foreign Minister demanded that Lithuania surrender the Klaipeda State Seaport region to German control. Lithuania submitted in exchange for the right to use Klaipeda State Seaport's facilities. Adolf Hitler had waited on a battleship for the surrender, and he sailed into the harbor to give a speech from a theater balcony.

As the end of World War II neared, German inhabitants of Klaipeda State Seaport fled. Those who chose to stay were either killed or driven out of Klaipeda State Seaport. The Soviet Red Army took the city in January 1945. The first ship to call at Klaipeda State Seaport after World War II was the military Luban. By the end of 1945, ten vessels had called at port.

After the war, the territory was incorporated into the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, beginning a new era in Klaipeda State Seaport's history. Taking advantage of the leading ice-free port in the Eastern Baltic area, the Soviets transformed Klaipeda State Seaport into the biggest fishing-marine base in their European territories. They built a huge shipyard, dockyards, and a fishing port.

During the Soviet period, there were three ports in Klaipeda: Klaipeda River and Fishing Port, Nemunas Shipping Port, and Klaipeda Commercial Seaport. The Sea Fishing Fleet was established later in Klaipeda State Seaport, supplying fish to much of the Soviet Union's European population. In 1969, vessel repair operations began at the new Western Ship Repair Yard in Klaipeda State Seaport, and the Lithuanian Shipping Company was established with control of the Commercial Seaport. The navy fleet was established within the Commercial Seaport. For many years after World War II, the navy fleet transported captured property from Germany to the Soviet Union and Poland.

By 1989, over 200 thousand people lived in Klaipeda State Seaport, most of the new citizens having arrived from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania. Lithuanians became the dominant ethnic group. Even so, Klaipeda State Seaport still has the highest percentage of people in Lithuania whose native language is Russian.

In the 1980s, the largest project in Klaipeda State Seaport was undertaken. The International Ferry Terminal Klaipeda-Mukran, then the biggest rail ferry in the world, was built to serve ferries used to move Soviet military equipment and personnel.

After the 1970s, Klaipeda State Seaport became important to economies outside the USSR. Klaipeda State Seaport engaged in cultural activities that had been discouraged (for example, the Sea Festival). Lithuania became independent from the Soviet Union in 1990.

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