Grimaldi: “Reducing the Port Authorities in Italy would be a mistake”

Grimaldi: “Reducing the Port Authorities in Italy would be a mistake”

Heraklion - Interview with the President of the Italian shipowners, Manuel Grimaldi

Heraklion -“I think that the port reform law should be drawn up at a table where only three ‘people’ are sitting: Minister Lupi, Assoporti and Confitarma”. Those were the words of the President of the Italian shipowners, Manuel Grimaldi, who gave a speech on the side-lines of the Euromed Convention held in Crete. “This ‘table’ should only host the Minister, the people who pay the bill (us) and the people providing the services (the ports). We shouldn’t have one port holding its own ‘table’ in secrecy, then another one… another table at the Ambrosetti Forum, another at Aspen…” said Grimaldi and the general sense was that he was referring, without wording it, to the president of the port of Genoa, Luigi Merlo. A few days before the general assembly, the leader of Confitarma spoke out, explaining that he had several meetings with Lupi, and that he had presented this proposal. 

Do you agree with the reduction of Port Authorities?

“No, I honestly think that the reduction of some Port Authorities would not help with the spending review, indeed it might have the opposite effect. Ours is a country that is ideally shaped for exports - mind you that even with the crisis export levels registered growth – se we need to have many ports, and they need administration teams to manage them efficiently. Of course, one can organise a port system based on a two level structure: large national ports on the Ten-T network, and smaller regional ports with less facilities than the current ones. Naturally we should rationalise investments. Although it’s impossible to get an extra half a million tons of cargo, Napoli, Salerno and Civitavecchia are each thinking of building a new terminal. We need to reach an agreement, because, otherwise, we’ll be wasting resources and we’ll end up building a castle in the sky. In this sense, maybe a central structure like Puertos del Estado could help.” 

Are we keeping all transhipment ports? Today we have Taranto which is going through a profound crisis, Cagliari which is barely scraping a living and Gioia Tauro fighting with some fierce competition.

“No, in this case we shouldn’t think of the local level. One port and not three as we now have, but able to function optimally should be more than enough for Italy. The alliances between large carriers are now five, they might even be six soon, and there are plenty of ports able to compete with Gioia Tauro: Algeciras, Tangier, Damietta, Malta ... we cannot hope to keep everything in Italy.”

You have made a name for yourself with the purchase of Hellenic Seaways, Trasmediterranea, SNCM, Polish Shipping…

“It is true, in fact I’m like an American: the bigger, the better. Grimaldi Group is the largest passenger transport company in the world, we are quite willing to stay that way and we have some top of the class companies with us such as Minoan in the Mediterranean and Finnlines in the Baltic. But with the acquisitions, it’s like with the football players: it is better not to say anything until things are done, otherwise prices go up. We look around, but if we decide to buy, you’ll know it after the fact. You see, we are buyers and not sellers, that the reality.” 

Clessidra has put up for sale its 35% of Tirrenia…

“But didn’t they also have to buy the 32% off the others? (Moby ed.) Joking aside, I would rather say nothing about an operation that is plagued with so much controversy.” 

What do you think of the proposal made this morning by Ioannis Bras, chairman of the port of Iraklion: Crete connected with a direct line to Italy.

“We did experiment with this; with fifty trailers. We wanted to get a sense of how to handle perishable products, because for passengers the times are too long. However, we found that this would be a route heavily depended on seasonality, and we need to have profitability 12 months a year. So I have to admit that we moved onto other plans. Anyway, if there was someone else interested in trying, we wouldn’t stop them of course ... “

The Grimaldi Group is also the main carrier of the Fiat car company which is as ever, increasingly global. Advantages or disadvantages of the relocation?

“From our point of view… thumbs up for Marchionne! We can no longer produce economic cars in Italy. The relocation is an advantage for us. We are not forgetting of course that this was a blow for the Italian jobs. Apart from Ferrari, Maserati and the high-end car manufacturers that must necessarily remain in our country, you know that the new “small” Jeep will be made in Melfi? But 10 years ago if we had been told that Chrysler would relocate its production to this country, no one would have believed it. Instead ... thanks to Marchionne Fiat has become a major international player. Today without him, Fiat would have been a small, insignificant company “

Port of Naples. Commissioner 550 days old...

“Unfortunately, I think that despite the various attempts to reform the ports, we have not yet seen the intention to appoint a new president. Moreover, at present, in the context of a complex rule, we have a president of the region who is a ‘good person’, but is a member of a political party opposed to the central government. A former candidate (Villari), who according to the various rulings of the judges in the various courts of Italy, it is not clear whether he is suitable or not to be the President, and a mayor who ... So based on all the above I think that all in all a good Commissioner would be even better than a president.”