La Spezia port and Contship promote southern gateway to European trade

THE La Spezia Port Authority and the Italian logistics company Contship were recently in New York promoting the virtues of trading with Europe through their respective organisations

La Spezia port and Contship promote southern gateway to European trade
19 September 2018 - 19:06
THE La Spezia Port Authority and the Italian logistics company Contship were recently in New York promoting the virtues of trading with Europe through their respective organisations.

The shape of the Italian peninsula is most often thought of as a boot, but it can also be seen as a huge pier stretching into the Mediterranean Sea, that's how the two organisations would like the world to view their country.

Located in northwest Italy on the Ligurian Sea, a bay that also hosts Genoa and Savona on its shores, La Spezia is in a position to handle cargo to and from all of northern Italy, from Piedmont in the west to Tuscany in the centre and Veneto in the east.

Interestingly, the Port of New York and New Jersey is, and has historically been, La Spezia's number-one port partner globally. The trade between La Spezia and New York centres on Italian exports, including ceramic tiles, marble, luxury automobiles, fashion and textiles, and food and wine, AJOT reported.

La Spezia also has ambitions to capture trade from elsewhere in Europe. A recent deal with the Swiss supermarket operator Migros, has seen a growing level of imports being handled through the Port of La Spezia, with the level of trade from Switzerland growing ten-fold in the last four years.

The eventual extension of the Gotthard tunnel from Switzerland to Italy will enhance the ability of Italian ports to handle Swiss trade, enabling longer and heavier trains to transit between the two countries-and rail connections are one of La Spezia's hallmarks.

These facts suggest what the Italians hope is the beginning of a shift in orientation in European trade. Whereas currently, as much as 70 per cent of trade transits northern European ports, developments in Italy and elsewhere could flip that figure on its head in the coming years.

'Italy is at the centre of the Mediterranean,' noted Francesco Genuardi, Italy's consul general in New York, who hosted the recent event. 'Italy connects Europe to Africa and the Middle East.'

The Port of La Spezia currently the second largest port in Italy for container final destination services, handling around 1.4 million TEU and 60 million tonnes of cargo last year.

'From La Spezia, you can reach the most important markets in Europe,' said Francesco di Sarcina, secretary general of the La Spezia Port Authority.

La Spezia's catchment area reaches 47 per cent of Italy's GDP. 'It is a gateway to many provinces in north and central Italy,' said Mr di Sarcina. 'Shippers are also able to reach central and southern Europe through La Spezia. We are investing in logistics infrastructure to improve the speed of our cargo handling.'

Crucially, around 35 per cent of container traffic handled at La Spezia is transported by rail-as compared to the average of nine to 10 per cent among Italian ports - with over 200 trains per week serving the port. The giant intermodal transshipment centre at Melzo, east of Milan, with the capacity to handle 7,000 trains per year, is a crucial piece of La Spezia's cargo-handling operation.

'The proximity to Melzo provides logistics advantages to La Spezia more so than the size of the port itself,' said Daniele Testi, director of Contship Italy.

The port's master plan calls for increasing operational areas of the commercial ports by 25 per cent through public-private partnerships, including arrangements with Contship. The plan calls for new roads to be built, new ground spaces to be dedicated, with investments in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

'This expansion will increase the port's capacity to two-million TEU per year,' said Mr di Sarcina. 'We have the goal also to handle 50 per cent of containers by rail.' The expanded port will also include three areas for berthing large container ships of up to 16,000 TEU and nine rail lines serving the port area. La Spezia was the first Italian port to handle the new generation of larger container ships and is now served by four carrier strings that cover all of North America: to Montreal, the east coast, gulf coast, and west coast.

Contship started out in the container shipping business but has since sold its vessels to concentrate on providing integrated door-to-door logistics services through its maritime terminal and rail assets. The company's hubs are located in Tangiers, Morocco and in La Spezia, Ravenna, and Salerno, Italy.

'We handle one in four containers handled through the Port of La Spezia,' noted Mr Testi, 'and also have a 25 per cent intermodal market share there.'

Contship's role in the La Spezia expansion project will include a 19-metre extension to its Garibaldi terminal, where the water depth will be deepened to 16 metres. A boat marina will be in-filled in a second phase of the project and reserved for future maritime terminal development.

Contship and La Spezia are jointly promoting the port as a southern gateway to European trade. 'Switzerland has historically been served from Germany,' noted Mr Testi. 'We want to push an alternative.'

Contship currently provides daily rail service from La Spezia to Basel, Zurich, and Munich, and other services are on the drawing boards. Contship plans to add to its Swiss customer roster by 'getting the attention of beneficial cargo owners,' said Mr Testi.

The value proposition of the southern gateway is that it saves shippers money, to the tune of US$70 per $100,000-shipment per day. Testi claims it 'is not a big deal' to save three days of transit time going through La Spezia, which would save shippers over $200 per shipment. Terminal charges in La Spezia are also cheaper, 22 per cent less than ports in northern Europe.

The ultimate goal is to turn the trade map of Europe upside down. 'The current north-south ratio is around 70-to-30,' said Mr Testi. 'In the future it could be 65 to 70 per cent in favor of the south.'

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