WHAT IS the biggest challenge for those currently managing ports in Italy?
“Large ports,” replied Paolo Signorini, president of the Port System Authority of the western Ligurian Sea, which includes Genoa and Savona, “are attracting global alliances between shipping companies, resulting in increasing oligopoly. The traditional shipowning family company is giving way to just two or three global alliances. This phenomenon is also evident within freight terminals. Traditionally established shipping families have opened the terminals to investment funds in order to attract global operators.”
Local terminal operators are still in charge of Genoese terminals. Who’s responsible for signing the concession renewals that have been assigned by the Authority in recent weeks?
“I’d say that co-management is at work, even in the signing of concessions. I’d say that several of the clauses in the concession to Aldo Spinelli’s Rebora terminal are being influenced by the Icon fund, a minority shareholder, while over at the Sech terminal it’s the Infracapital fund.”
Is this a positive or negative situation for the Authority?“It’s positive as far as having world-class players in terms of know-how and managerial culture. Conversely the fact that while the Genoa-based players had strong ties to the area and the social context, these new partners can quickly disinvest should the port of Genoa not prove to be competitive. This situation also occurs on the ground in domestic markets. Today, a group like Amazon is present everywhere in northern Italy, with China’s Alibaba also making its way. These are businesses that focus strongly on the logistic sector and which pose certain challenges to those ports in the way they make requests for space and services. A new epoch is underway.”
Are the ports of Genoa and Savona prepared for the change?
“From a cyclical point of view, they’re in a fortunate position. Container traffic in Genoa grew by 14 percent in 2017, and 2018 started with a 20 percent jump in January. Meanwhile, the Port System Authority is getting stronger. It’s evident from the fact that certain decisions, which had been talked about for years by operators, have been taken. The real challenge will be to make large investments, that will radically alter the Genoese port, something that hasn’t happened since the middle of the last century. In this way, the port will become attractive for global operators, who stand ready to divert freight to Genoa, should certain conditions be present: the relocation of the dam, the possibility of forming train convoys of a certain length, the Gronda motorway link.”
And the airport?
“The airport is not so directly involved with freight, but, rather, it’s relevant to cruises and overall mobility.”
The ports of Trieste and La Spezia have made big strides in rail transport. What is the goal for Genoa and Savona?
“They form part of the Reno-Alpes corridor, a different system from that of Trieste and La Spezia. Some conditions must be met, such as a more level track than the current one, and having the option of forming longer train convoys. By achieving these conditions they’ll be able to compete on the global port market. If they do not meet them, they are bound to remain domestic market players. Therefore the Third Pass, a second track at the exit of the VTE, which should be ready in 2019, the exit at the port of Vado, and the upgrading of the Sampierdarena railway yard, are all needed. I’m not satisfied.”
“The real problem is the Sampierdarena quay. To complete the circle, investments in the terminals, in the Parco Campasso link and in the Third Pass are needed. Each link in the chain must meet certain requirements. Currently, however, I don’t see the qualitative leap required.”
The last elections changed the political landscape. As far as infrastructure in Genoa, what are you looking for from the new government?
“The decisions of the electorate must be upheld, whoever forms the government. There will be always a way to explain the importance of the planned investments. I do not foresee any discontinuity with the past.”