Genoa - Ignazio Messina is the Managing Director of the Ignazio Messina C & Spa shipping line. The company, with more than 90 years of experience in the sea transport sector, operates with 14 of its own ships flying the Italian flag, plus some others on charter, all specialized ro-ro container vessels.
How has the way you operate in the African continent changed?
“Many ship owners believed that the Arab Spring, with all its consequences, would last a little bit less than a year, a bit like the economic crisis. However, we realise in hindsight that we are still faced with certain problems that have yet to be resolved”.
Are you referring to Egypt?
“In Egypt the situation is terrible. The country is still tormented by great social and political unrest which has of course affected sea transport”.
Aren’t you worried about the safety of the ships navigating the Suez Canal?
“There is no doubt that we are being very cautious: this is after all a very sensitive zone. But we also acknowledge that, after oil, the revenues generated by the Suez Canal are the second most important source of income for the state. And precisely because of that, the Egyptian army is keeping a close and constant guard over the entire zone, which up until now has always been peaceful”.
So, in the area of the Mediterranean, the routes that have been most affected by this general unrest, which now prevails in North Africa, are the ones connected to Egypt?
“Yes, but also the ones connected to Libya are not ideal either. After Gaddafi’s fall the situation deteriorated, following the drop in oil production. The country is divided, there is no way of knowing who is in control now and a solution to this problem is not yet in sight”.
In West and South Africa the Italian shipping interests are not as strong as in the area of Maghreb. However, in those territories there is great growth potential for all trade involving both Italian businesses and ports?
“In West Africa the problem for those who want to approach these territories is not so much the political instability as the continuing war with its religious angle which creates significant problems, especially against those who attempt to adopt a western business model. However, the potential is enormous and that’s confirmed by the latest establishment of PIL - Pacific International Lines (PIL) - in several countries. In this matter also, as is the case in the rest of South Africa, we should also note the strong interest in these areas coming from the Chinese market. A phenomenon that tends to exclude a Mediterranean involvement. But the big Chinese companies are often quite aggressive and this way of doing business is seldom seen favourably, which could very well offer ample opportunity for European businesses”.
What are the future prospects?
“If we can return to the entire area of North Africa, since this is the most important one for Italy, it’s obvious that if those countries begin to open up towards Europe and implement the necessary reforms, the growth potential, in terms of creating new economic relationships with our country, is enormous, including of course the opportunities related to maritime transport”.