Ravenna - Silvio Bartolotti says he predicts a “grand future” for his salvage company. What is certain is that his firm, the long-established Ravenna-based Micoperi, is facing a less-than-ideal present. Micoperi gained notoriety for having carried out, together with the firm Titan, the process of righting the wreck (parbuclinkg) of the “Costa Concordia” after it shipwrecked off Giglio.
At its inception the company engaged in salvaging the hulls of ships abandoned in ports, following the end of WWII; it is currently headed by 73-year-old, Ravenna-born entrepreneur Bartolotti, through his holding company Protan.
During the years of oil prices at $90-100 a barrel, which was the norm before 2014, the company expanded its global footprint, becoming a major player in the offshore platform and underwater pipeline planning and installation. The operations aimed at the decontamination of the affected seabed around Giglio ended just a month ago, May 7, six years after the tragedy: “Six years of work connected to such a dramatic episode,” Bartolotti recalled in a statement last week, “but one that brought together thousands of people of different nationalities who formed a great team, that overcame difficulties everyone thought were insurmountable.” The reference to insurmountable difficulties seems to be a message directed at Micoperi’s creditors, worried about their investments. In less than a week, on June 25, the company will bring together the holders of 35 million in bonds issued in 2015. On the agenda for this meeting is a “debt restructuring proposal”: a further request for an extended repayment deadline. About a quarter of those bonds are held by a single fund, Arca, which is owned by twelve credit unions, and which is demanding to be repaid as soon as possible: “Arca knows that the bonds can hardly be repaid at their face value,” says a source close to the investment fund. The fear of bondholders arose in 2016, the year that Micoperi closed with losses of over 34 million. “It was the oil price collapse, which forced many oil companies to postpone their projects, and that dragged many companies that worked for them towards bankruptcy,” sums up Franco Nanni, president of Roca, the association of offshore contractors in Ravenna. Currently crude oil is sold at 75 dollars per barrel, but in 2016 it had fallen below 30: “The price collapse wiped out 80% of our competitors,” says Bartolotti.To cope with the lean years, Micoperi negotiated several loans: in addition to the 35 million bonds issued, according to 2016 data, loans to the tune of some 78 million were received, which are still at the centre of protracted re-negotiations between the company and its lenders. Last year, thanks to the slow rise in the price of crude oil, the firm’s outlook changed. Micoperi has obtained a large contract in Ghana to build a facility for the storage and distribution of liquefied natural gas: “This year our firm’s budget,” assures Bartolotti, “will close in the positive, and our future will be grand. After all, most of our competitors have disappeared.”