Negotiations continue between Contship Italia and a consortium including Geneva-based shipping line Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) for the sale of Contship’s shares in the southern Italian port of Gioia Tauro.
Sources close to the deal indicated that the sale of Contship Italia’s 50 percent stake in Gioia Tauro could be agreed to within the next few weeks after nearly three years of talks.
MSC already owns a 50 percent stake in the Medcenter Container Terminal (MCT) at Gioia Tauro through its investment vehicle, CSM. Terminal investment Limited (TiL) has a 51 percent share of CSM, and Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP) has a 49 percent stake. GIP is the investment vehicle used to acquire London’s Gatwick Airport, among other infrastructure projects.
A number of liner shipping operators tranship their cargo from MCT through southern Italy, either by train to central Europe or via feeder vessel to other European or North African ports.
However, volume at MCT has dropped. At the peak of its operations MCT handled in excess of 3.5 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) but following the financial crisis in 2008 and the departure of Maersk and other major lines such as Hapag Lloyd and COSCO, volumes have fallen to around 2.5 million TEU.
MSC is now the sole remaining vessel operator at the port, in what appears to have been a change in strategy by vessel operators and the growing competition within the Mediterranean container terminal industry.
In 1995 when Contship Italia’s founder Angelo Ravanno developed the idea of a central Mediterranean transhipment port for cargo arriving from Asia the plan appeared to be a stable investment, with the possibility of developing the terminal as vessel sizes increased.
Since then, however, liner shipping companies such as Maersk have developed their operations with a two-hub strategy in the Mediterranean now the favored option. Maersk operates terminals at Port Said, at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal, in the Eastern Mediterranean and at Algeciras, near the Gibraltar Straits, in the west.
Competition to MCT has also developed from ports in Cyprus, Greece (where COSCO holds a stake in Piraeus Port), Malta Freeport and Tangier in Morocco. Other ports at Barcelona, Spain and Marseilles, France have also provided some competition, as has the Cagliari terminal on the Italian island of Sardinia. The port of Genoa has been perhaps the most significant competitor within Italy. Genoa is another day’s sailing time for vessels from Asia, but it shortens the overland connections to central Europe.