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Mediterranean Ports: Recession or Development?

by Fabio Capocaccia

Fabio Capocaccia

The European panorama of harbour labour organisation and management has been changing rapidly over the last years.

In many European countries, especially Mediterranean ones, new laws concerning harbour reform have been introduced, with consequent changes in terminal operation management, power and responsibilities of harbour authorities, labour monopolies, greater competitivity in service, government subsidies, etc..

The European harbour system does not constitute a homogeneous body. The various harbours differ greatly from one another with regards to organisation, importance on both national and international scales, level of technical specialisation, larger or smaller possibility of managing all kinds or only certain kinds of goods.

Extremely different, due to financial and economic importance, are the reference markets on which the various harbours depend and of which they are the expression.

Northern European harbours, except for England and Baltic countries formerly under Soviet influence, are all of an "Hanseatic" type, i.e. of municipal interest, with a strong management and financial presence of local authorities. This is true for all harbours set between Hamburg and Belgium, including the Scandinavian harbours.

The transformation of the French harbour system is still pending. After years of extensive growth, the harbour of Le Havre has been leaving the way for some years, while the Harbour of Marseille has remained far behind with regards to competing harbours in Spain and Italy. The French Harbour system is still a government managed system, and recent measures concerning harbour labour, and in particular the " mensualisation" of labour, have caused many conflicts.

In the Mediterranean, Spain and Italy are the countries that have faced the problem of harbour transformation with the clearest ideas and the most defined decisions.

Spanish reform laws have, on the one hand, done away with a number of management autonomies in peripheral harbours, thus concentrating control and financial inspection functions, and on the other, brought about the semi-privatization of the operative activities, thus enabling private operators to enter the harbour market.

Spanish harbours, both the Mediterranean ones (Barcelona, Valencia, Algesiras) and the ones in the Atlantic (Bilbao and Cadiz), are nowadays extremely important.

Moreover, the new political changes which are taking place, seem to be leading, at least where some of the main harbours are concerned, to a system of greater financial and decisional autonomy.

However, Italy is the country which has answered the problem of the privatisation of harbour services in the most decisive manner. Since January 1994, the recent reform law has attributed by law all harbour operations to private operators, who, bearing complete autonomy as well as financial and economic responsibility, supervise all loading and unloading operations for any kind of goods: from petroleum products to fruit, from miscellaneous goods to passengers.

This decisive change from a publicly managed system (in the best cases, in the most advanced harbours, there was a mixed management carried out by harbour operative companies) to a private management system, under the control of a state Harbour Authority, has , over the last two years, given excellent results with regards to the commercial return of the harbour.

All harbours have reported great recoveries in terms of volume of traffic. In Genoa, for example, which is the model for the transformation carried out throughout the country, traffic of miscellaneous goods and containers doubled between 1993 and 1996.

Therefore, Spain and Italy are the countries which have advanced the most with regards to the privatisation of the management of harbour services. They are also the countries which have contributed the most in lifting the Mediterranean harbour system out of its economic and commercial "limbo", and placed it, finally, on the same level with the best examples of European and world-wide harbour systems.

Algesiras, with its Maersk and Sea Land terminals - two world-wide known names - deals with more than a million containers. Valencia, Barcelona, Genoa, La Spezia, Gioia Tauro (in the near future) and Malta offer services which, for quality, are on a level with the best Northern European Harbours; and go up constantly in the chart of European harbours.

If this happens in connection with the Far East route, the result is beneficial for the whole of Europe: routes are shortened by 1,800 miles, equal to 7 days of navigation, Europe is "nearer" to the Far East, the area of greatest economic and technological development.

It is not by chance that a number of producers of the central-European interland have, over the last years, again started to use the southern harbours of the European Union more frequently.

The Mediterranean harbours are currently undergoing a phase of great recovery. The Mediterranean is no longer a closed basin, its market of reference is no longer a limited one; on the contrary, it is a market which is greatly developing, both in the most advanced countries and in those which are starting to open towards the European Union, in Eastern Europe, in the Black Sea. The same thing goes for Northern Africa and the Middle East.

The Med. is no longer a short-sea-shipping area. None of the great ports of the Med. can be considered only from this point of view.

Today, Italian, Spanish, Southern French, Greek, Egyptian or Cyprus harbours are used by shipping companies which operate along the route between the Far East and Europe, and therefore on a level with transoceanic routes, with ships of big dimensions.

Particularly interesting is the fact that, compared to the North of Europe, the Med. is preferred by important shipowners (Maersk, for example), which touch in the Med. with their "commuter" services between the Atlantic coast of the United States and the harbours of the Far East.

These routes cannot include detours towards Northern European ports: so, it they accept traffic towards Europe, then they will have to manage it through Mediterranean harbours.

With regards to transshipping, it happens both in the Med. and in the North of Europe. It is a well known fact that the Baltic Area, Scandinavia, England itself are served by feeder lines which operate from the great harbours of Antwerp, Rotterdam and Hamburg.

The Med., however, is also a short-sea-shipping area, which must, in the future, be developed further, along a north-south route with the Northern African countries and along the east-west route, with the Near East and Italy, France and Spain.

I wish to remind you of another important item: passengers.

A part from the area of goods, the Med. is also important due to the great volume of passenger transit, an equally relevant economic factor, with noticeable increase percentages.

After the Caribbean, the Med. is today one of the most important areas from the point of view of cruise and ferry traffic. Cruise passengers alone are a million ca., while ferry traffic reaches many millions of passengers, taking into consideration all the companies which operate in the countries of greatest interest.

Major world-wide shipowners operate in the Med., and in particular the Italian groups Costa and Grimaldi, Greek group Epirotiki and Festival Line. Owing to availability and quality of fleet, number of ships under construction, economic importance on the world scale, passengers are, in our area, an item of capital and unique importance.

It is according to this point of view, that new and modern passenger terminals have been and are being built in Italy, Spain, Greece and France. In Genoa, but also at Barcelona and the Pireo, there are already examples of terminals of great value, due to the quality and standards of efficiency and safety they are able to offer.

It is significant that the harbour of Genoa has been chosen as the seat of the Sea Trade Mediterranean exhibition, which, following similar world-wide exhibitions - which take place in Miami and in Singapore, every two years - will deal with the problems connected with passenger traffic with an eye on the promotion of the whole Mediterranean area.

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