Genoa - It was the arrival of the 17,000-TEU mega container carrier, MSC Istanbul, that started it off. “There will be other calls,” confirmed Gilberto Danesi, PSA’s chief in Italy and the leader of VTE, the most important terminal in the port of Genoa. The docks between Pra’ and Voltri achieved record traffic this year: 1.6 million TEUs. The VTE was up 16.5% compared to last year, driving the port’s overall volumes, which have been rising continually. Paradoxically, the number of ships calling could decrease, but it is the capacity of each individual unit that has increased: VTE is becoming the terminal of the giants of the sea. The new record also reflects a positive trend in revenue, which could reach €170 million this year. “And the prospects for 2018 are good,” as Danesi explained, “The market is changing rapidly, but the first quarter should be better than last year, because the services are already operational, while at the beginning of 2016 they were still undergoing restructuring”. The terminal that belongs to the Singaporean giant PSA, which operates the VTE and a terminal in Venice (Vecon) here in Italy, will grow further in terms of volume and is already prepared to receive more mega ships, and not just from MSC, in the coming months: “It is clear that everyone is looking at our terminal with great interest,” Danesi said.
VTE is attracting a great deal of interest, and the results it achieved in 2017 confirm that the market has changed strategies. The transhipment ports are suffering - at least in Italy - while ports of destination, like Genoa, are growing: “With the new cranes we have exceeded the operational limit for large ships,” Danesi explained, “And it now also makes less sense for the companies to leave containers sitting at transhipment ports than it did in the past: it is much more efficient to send it directly to its port of destination”. It is in this context that the VTE has become a focus for the strategic interests of the major global groups. For some weeks, the Genoese terminal has been at the centre of a competition between two capitals of the shipping industry: Beijing and Geneva. After bringing the largest ship ever to call at the port of Genoa, MSC decided to take over the running of 200 meters of docks at VTE. Gianluigi Aponte, the group’s chief, had admitted that he was interested in Genoa’s leading terminal in an interview with Il Secolo XIX/TheMediTelegraph: “We are willing, it depends on them”. Switzerland is courting the western end of the port, after planting its flag on a large portion of Sampierdarena, but surprisingly it is not the only suitor. The arrival of the Chinese Deputy Prime Minister at the port of Genoa at the beginning of December did not go unnoticed. The senior official asked - and was granted permission - to inspect the Voltri terminal’s cranes. Was it a coincidence? There is a substantial part of the maritime cluster - and also of the local political scene - that does not believe in coincidences. And so a part of the rain of billions of dollars that Beijing is pouring into the huge Silk Road project could be coming to Genoa. It would be a change of strategy compared to recent Chinese acquisitions, which have so far focused more on transhipment ports (as in Greece with Piraeus). Sceptics point out that Beijing is already investing in Vado and that it would be strange for them to invest in VTE, as well. Yet a very qualified source confides that “with the volumes to which they are accustomed in Asia, filling the two terminals would be child’s play for the Chinese”. For now, all the strategic positioning is taking place behind the scenes, but some things remain clear: PSA has already shown that it can make strong alliances with both of its “suitors”. And then there are the recent meetings at the ministry to attempt to find a way to manage the Chinese arrival in Italy’s ports. In December the experts from Graziano Delrio’s Mission Structure spoke about this, together with Ennio Cascetta, the Chief of RAM (Rete Autostradale Mediterranee). The professors are meeting again in mid-January; there will be a discussion on how to reconcile two requirements: that of competition - which according to the government’s plans should lead to new investments in Italian ports - and that of protecting the national interest.