The Port of La Spezia is hopeful that Italy’s new port reform law and improvements to its own container-handling capabilities will help to boost its traffic volumes in the years to come.
One of the most significant changes brought about by the new law, which went into effect in September 2016, is the setting up of 15 port system authorities instead of the traditional 24 port authorities, cutting down bureaucracy and streamlining governance.
“I think things can change now,” says Federica Montaresi, head of the studies and special projects unit at the Eastern Ligurian Port System Authority. “It’s an important reform for the organization and governance of port authorities in Italy. Another key point of the reform is based on rail connections between the ports and the hinterland. There is also a specific focus on the trans-European network, which will be ready by 2050. This will allow all the ports and other logistics nodes to build an efficient network for the transport of goods and people.
Meanwhile, the port itself is planning to dredge all its approach channels to 15 or 16 metres in order to be able to accommodate even larger ships, and is investing in expansions at both Terminal del Golfo and La Spezia Container Terminal, which has four weekly services to Asia and one to Oceania.
“I think that now we have new challenges,” says Montaresi. “But we also have new tools to improve the competitiveness of our port.”
La Spezia Container Terminal, owned and managed by Contship Italia Group, is embarking on a €200 million (US$235 million) expansion which will increase its annual capacity from 1.3 million TEUs to 2 million TEUs. Apart from lengthening the existing quays, an adjacent piece of land will be developed, resulting in a new quay along with new equipment. The aim is to have four quays all capable of handing 20,000 TEU vessels. According to Contship Italia, the project is expected to take about four years and, with formal approval from the Italian minister of transport, work can begin at the end of the year.
“But for us, the competitiveness of a port has to do with the number of connections you have and the markets you can serve, so it’s not only about the quays,” says Daniele Testi, marketing and corporate communication director at Contship Italia Group. “We also have to invest in the internal connections. There will be no chance to grow to 2 million TEUs if we’re not able to grow our rail connections. We’re aiming to raise the proportion of rail traffic we handle from 30% to 50% of our throughput.”
A key component to that is Contship Italia’s rail hub in Melzo, on the eastern outskirts of Milan. Testi says that the facility is used as a cross-docking hub and that the traffic is split roughly 50/50 between continental and maritime trade.
“We’ve invested over €40 million (US$47 million) in this inland terminal,” he says. “It’s more or less the same size as the Port of La Spezia and runs 24/7. It handles 7,000 trains and is already equipped with 750-metre-long rail tracks, which is the new standard in Europe.”
According to Montaresi, the port is also introducing more innovation into the customs clearance process so that the transport of goods to the hinterland is made more efficient. One example is an effort to shift all customs procedures to a dry port area located approximately 7 kilometres inland, primarily used for the storage of rail containers. When a container is offloaded from a vessel, it can immediately be put onto a train to the dry port for the customs process.
“From an IT perspective, it’s important to concentrate all the customs control of goods in the same place,” says Montaresi. “There is a perception that in Italy, the control of goods is a very slow process and that it would be better to use other northern ports. That’s not true now. We think that by September 2017, we’ll be ready to carry out the physical control of goods at the dry port.”
The port also offers a pre-clearing option, under which the customs clearance process can be carried out once a ship enters Italian waters, while the container is still onboard.
Montaresi is confident that, with the help of all these optimizations, it offers a very competitive value proposition and is a real alternative to other ports in northern Europe.
“We think Italy has the best position in the Mediterranean area, because its shape is almost like a pier itself,” she says. “From La Spezia you can reach central and northern Europe quite easily with our rail connections. Thanks to Contship Italia’s subsidiaries, we have daily connections to Milan and Verona, and from there we can offer services to many European destinations, including Munich, Frenkendorf, Duisburg and Rotterdam, for example.”
From Contship Italia’s point of view, it would actually be better for many of the volumes currently moving through the North to move via La Spezia, the main advantages being shorter transit time and better risk management.
“Specific areas that we’re looking at are southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria, all about 500-600 kilometres from the coastline of Italy,” Testi says. “To do this, we’ve started to promote our innovation, better port performance and better integration of customs services.”
As an example, La Spezia didn’t have any containers moving to Switzerland in 2014, but is now expecting to transport about 10,000 in 2017.
“The shippers in the middle of Europe cannot stick to just one corridor,” says Testi. “They need to have alternatives in place and they’re now looking to have one in the North, such as Antwerp, Rotterdam or Hamburg, and one in the South, like La Spezia, Genoa or Trieste.”
He adds that, having tested the service for a few months, forwarders are now increasing their demand, and Swiss shippers such as food company Nestlé and supermarket chain Migros have now decided to put a certain percentage of their trade on this southern corridor, provided that the service is reliable and a single operator is able to integrate the full service from door to door.
“We think that the new Italian port reform has helped to push a new approach,” says Montaresi. “There is a new feeling of competitiveness in terms of maritime transport and logistics.”
The Port of La Spezia handled its first 14,000 TEU vessel in 2011. Today, approximately 80% of calls made at LCST are by vessels with a length of 350 metres or more, with those from Asia in at least the 14,000-16,000 TEU category.
“At La Spezia, we know that there is no other choice than to grow,” says Testi. “And to grow, you have to be able to handle the new demand from the market. We have to do what we can in a very compact space. We know this is a challenge, but I think we have proven ourselves.”
For Contship Italia, the potential to serve southern Europe and Switzerland Switzerland is no longer a question of Powerpoint presentations, as the company has been able to show people what it is doing and that it can make it work.
“It’s now an actual service that we offer and that you can test, so it’s more a question of a change in mindset from the shippers”, says Testi. “Sometimes they may consider Italian ports as not very reliable and effective, but that’s because nobody has told them the reality, which is that we can do what other European ports can do.”
By Jeffrey Lee
Asia Cargo News | Munich