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“STX France? It will remain State-owned for now” / INTERVIEW

Genoa - To get from Paris to Genoa is much easier than one might think. Especially if you go through Geneva. Gianluigi Aponte is shipping: he founded and leads one of the largest shipping groups in the world. MSC is cargo, cruises and ports

Genoa - To get from Paris to Genoa is much easier than one might think. Especially if you go through Geneva. Gianluigi Aponte is shipping: he founded and leads one of the largest shipping groups in the world. MSC is cargo, cruises and ports. When he speaks in public - which is almost never - not only do Port Authorities listen, governments too. For this reason, when he explains that in his opinion, “STX France will remain in State hands in the end,” it is not an analyst’s prediction and it is more than a premonition. It is a matter of size, like when he says that volumes make the market and determine “the life or death of a terminal. And we have the volumes.” The future of Italian shipping and a war of freight rates. And then how Genoa must wake up.

A month has passed since you thundered out against Fincantieri’s entry into STX France. Something has changed: France has nationalised it and new negotiations have begun. Have you held your positions?
“It is up to the French government to find the solution. In my opinion, it would be a negative outcome for the shipbuilding industry in general if Fincantieri became a majority shareholder in STX France.”

But are you willing to buy a stake in it?
“Yes, we are willing, but given how things have gone, I don’t believe that the French government will back down. Not with us, and not with Fincantieri. Now it’s too late: the deal could have been done before the nationalisation of the shipyard, now the problem has been talked about too much.”

So in your opinion, how will it end?
“I doubt that Fincantieri will enter as a majority shareholder and in the end the French government will own the company and then sell it to the highest bidder when it considers it to be the right time. It is not a bad solution: the shipyard was losing money, this has made it more profitable. You see in France, the State has a strong presence in the economy.”

Let’s talk about shipping companies: is there a war between you and the Grimaldi family?

“It isn’t a war between people, it is a war of freight rates: I have got to where I’ve got by defending my interests. At the moment, everyone is attacking, not only Grimaldi, because the space and the cargo are what they are. We can fight this battle only by increasing volumes and we are seeking to increase the size of our ships, too.”

What is your opinion about what happened with Confitarma? Your companies left the association too...
“I think the right choices were made: we want an organisation for everyone that pursues everyone’s interests. And apparently that wasn’t the case at Confitarma right from the start. We need an independent association. The split was right: we will move forward acting in everyone’s interests.”

Will there be a new association?
“We will create a new association: we will either join Fedarlinea or we will change Fedarlinea. But it is clear that we need another confederation besides Confitarma.”

MSC is in full expansion in Italian ports. Many competitors are concerned.
“Look, it’s normal: we are expanding because we have the volumes. No one has volumes like ours. And our expansion in Italy is a benefit for the country. If we weren’t expanding here, we’d do it elsewhere. We call the shots, because volume calls the shots. Whoever has the volume can make a terminal live, or die if they leave that terminal. It’s lucky that we’re here and that we have this spirit of helping Italy: we create jobs.”

As a matter of fact, what plans do you have for the bulk terminal in Genoa?

“Bulk traffic is decreasing, and handling it within a historic port where there is tourism, where yachts moor, seems to me to be a bad idea. Up until now it has been doable, but one day, bulk traffic will have to be shifted to a more commercial port. In the future, Genoa will have to operate with “cleaner” cargo, like containers or wheeled cargo, and have nothing to do with bulk goods.”

The Port Authority sent off the permit to operate containers and ferries to the State Attorney’s Office.
“Right, and we must respect the law. It seems to me that the Attorney’s office has spoken out in favour of handling ferries.”

What will MSC do with this area?
“In the meantime, we will move forward with Spinelli, which is bringing in traffic. Then we will do it ourselves when we expand GNV: we want to grow the company and the current space might not be sufficient. We have already ordered four 2,500-passenger, 3,500-linear-metre ships… We need a dynamic port, and it should be the Port Authority that now takes action to start up business, because there is a danger that the staff would have to be laid off. Luckily, Spinelli has the volume to be able to activate the terminal, so that is what we will do in the future, and people will keep their jobs. It would be a shame if the authorities slowed down this positive phenomenon.”

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