Major maneuvering on the docks
From Gioia Tauro to Genoa, leading shipowners are getting together. To avoid being left out of the routes leaving from the Far East for Europe
by Gianluca Ferraris
A world leader in logistics that changes its strategy for the Italian market. A company that manages container traffic in Italy's major ports reorganizes its shareholdings. Repair docks in a race against time to intercept the traffic coming from the Far East. The first signs of discontent with the Monti government from the authorities.
Winds of change are blowing through Italian ports. Following a 2011 whose statistics reflect a difficult situation (60% of ports recorded a drop in cargo unloading and transit, coupled with a free-fall drop in tariffs) and one that remains static in terms of reform, some in this sector have begun to reshuffle the deck.
Their undeclared goal is to make Italian ports more "appealing" and rationalize costs and procedures to combat the advance of large-scale Mediterranean hubs such as Tangier and capture new traffic.
In 2012, 42 new container ships will enter into service with a capacity of over 13,000 TEU (unit of measure for containers) compared with the 22 units which came into operation during 2011. By the end of 2012, the worldwide fleet of maximum tonnage will rise to 100 ships, all involved in the routes between the Far East and Europe. Partly because of its geographical position and partly out of necessity (in the last year, freight rates have dropped by 50%), the Mediterranean can only recover its margins through focusing on volume.
There are three main players. All are active in sea freight and all have made significant changes in recent weeks. Two of them - Italy's Contship and Gianluigi Aponte's Geneva-based MSC group, have just gotten hitched on the docks of Gioia Tauro. From January 17th, the shares of the company that manages Italy's no. 1 port will be controlled (1/3 each) by the former majority-holder Contship (also the no. 1 shipper out of La Spezia, Cagliari and Salerno), TIL (part of MSC) and APM Terminals, a subsidiary of Maersk.
And the Dutch company is also responsible for other action in this sector. Its new managing director for Italy, Orazio Sella, at the helm for less than a year, is planning an expansion program involving Gioia Tauro and Genoa where the company is no. 1 in terms of unloaded cargo. But he is looking for better conditions, starting with the repair docks. With the Ligurian capital, where a battle is underway for the future of Fincantieri, the group could play their container ship card: six billion in orders in pre-emption in the Hamburg and Bremen yards could be revised on February 27th.
The other front is the expansion of virtually all Italian wharves. On January 20th, the association that brings together the authorities, Assoporti, issued a tough stand against the Monti government, accusing it of not having clarified definitive allocation of funds and to "not have clarified the content of dredging projects, thus failing to respond to the need for certainty and speed required by the entities that manage the ports, those active in this sector and, above all, the economy itself."