12 August 14

Keeping an open mind

The merger of Savona and Genova port authorities is far from a done deal, as Alex Hughes discovers

A new port reform law under discussion in Italy proposes the mergers of various port authorities to form larger entities. With a focus on a joint power agreement to manage future strategy and investment, as well as on the coveted wish for port financial autonomy, one of the proposed mergers involves Savona and Genova.

Luigi Merlo, president of Genova port authority, advocates a joint action plan, containing the guidelines and priorities underlying any future merger; a proposal which would also take into account the economic requirements of the Liguria Region as a whole.

“The Port Authority of Genova is in favour of combining the two ports, but rejects accusations that this is a bid for hegemony, as the contents of the new Italian port policy will be passed by Parliament and not by the individual port authorities,” he says.

The ports already co-operate in joint marketing and port promotion activities.

He notes that the merger would enhance the overall competitive position of both ports, especially since vessel sizes are growing, while maritime trade is becoming ever more complex and competitive.

“Genova and Savona should be competing with ports in other regions, not with each other,” he says. “Significantly, Voltri Terminal Europa is only 30km from the Port of Savona, so competition should thrive between the terminal operators and not between the port authorities.”

Savona’s uncertainty

Although there is clear enthusiasm in Genova for the merger, the authorities at Savona are yet to be convinced.

Savona port authority president, Gian Luigi Miazza concedes that in the global economy ports must be able to exert their influence on a continental scale, with each port range playing a specific role.

“Neighbouring ports share both problems and opportunities, starting with the corridors that serve their collective hinterlands.

Co-operation aimed at finding joint solutions is essential and many synergies can be achieved, although that doesn’t necessarily imply that port authorities need to merge,” he says.

As to what advantages there would be for Savona in a link up with Genova, Mr Miazza says it is premature to speculate given the lack of a clear proposal laying out how exactly this would work and what degree of autonomy would be retained by each.

“Having said that, Genova is a major port, with a long history and a worldwide reputation. With any integration, Savona could gain visibility and clout at both the national and international level. But it would have to be a very careful and balanced process.”

Nevertheless, there are questions as to whether Savona, as a medium-sized port, would lose some of its dynamism and flexibility, particularly given that current management closely understands its operators’ needs.

“There is no doubt that the larger the machine, the greater its inertia.” says Mr Miazza, rather poignantly.

Throughput count

Asked whether the merger makes sense in terms of container traffic, Mr Merlo notes that, currently, Genova can handle 3m teu/year, rising to 4m teu upon completion of major developments at Calata Bettolo and in the Sampierdarean basin. In addition, both VTE and SECH are equipped to accommodate the largest ships now working the east-west trade routes.

Meanwhile, at Vado Ligure, which falls under the competence of Savona port authority, the major Maersk platform under construction will have an 800,000 teu capacity. Once operational, it will open up real opportunities to serve the European market from the South, since it will easily be able to handle the largest vessels afloat.

“United, Genova and Savona would therefore rank as the only Italian port in a position to vie with the behemoth Northern European ports,” Mr Merlo says.

As to whether the proposed merger with Genova might negatively impact on these plans, Mr Miazza stresses that a lot of work has still to be done, which only “on-site” management can provide, therefore suggesting that Savona’s current management team’s input is vital to its success.

Significantly, before its demise the P3 Alliance had already designated Genova as one of its five Italian direct ports of call in the Asia-Europe trade lane. The loss of P3 may bring a silver lining in that business is now back up for grabs for the new Vado Ligure terminal once it enters service.

Source: www.portstrategy.com